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"Free trader Beowulf to Deimos flight control, I am beginning my final approach."
Iritana didn’t wait for the reply and nudged the thruster controls forward. It was a breach of protocol not to wait for flight control to authorize the burn but Beowulf was on a docking path and Iritana’s adjustments would only alter the course slightly. Just enough to put the ship into the docking bays instead of smearing it across the rocky surface of the moon.
“Deimos flight control to Beowulf. You are cleared to approach, docking bay 1, berth alpha niner.”
“Copy Deimos, Bay 1, alpha nine, ETA 15 minutes.”
Iritana turned to the co-pilot position and with the press of a few buttons, slaved her station to that of the co-pilot.
“Take her in.”
“Bay 1 Captain?”
Iritana smiled at her, “Perhaps they just have a free dock.”
Terina was just newly rated on the co-pilot station, but even she knew that being cleared to use the large corporate cargo faclilities was unusual for an independent trader like Beowulf. Iritana wondered what they had done to warrant the royal treatment.
Bay one was usually reserved for the large Terran Consortium space liners or their massive cargo haulers. A little inner system hauler like Beowulf was generally relegated to one of the smaller transfer bays which were little more than airlocks excavated into one of the impact craters that peppered the surface of the moon. Docking at a surface bay was roughly akin to a controlled crash. It took hours before a ship’s inertia was stabilized enough for the crew to secure the tie down clamps. The main bay, on the other hand, was a 1000 meter diameter hole bored into the core of the moon feeding directly into the cargo movers and squeaky clean cerami-steel corridors of the corporate sector.
TC ships always received priority berthing in bay 1, Beowulf’s usual run took her between Deimos and the Neo-Zealand orbital once or twice a year. This was the first time she’d been assigned to a berth in Bay 1. In spite of her assurances to Terina, she knew that nothing came for free and even small conveniences like the use of fully equipped state of the art corporate bay over the rudimentary surface docks built into surface craters on the moon were never just given away.
“You have the conn Terina, I’ll be in cargo.”
Iritana shut down her station and walked down the ship’s spine towards the cargo hold. Corridor would be a generous description of the cluttered, claustrophobic crawlspace that connected each of the ship’s compartments. The Beowulf was basically a long metal tube connecting the pilot compartment in the fore and the aft engines. Bulging out of this spine were the massive cargo holds which carried the goods she transported. Sandwiched between the huge cargo holds were the pressurized canisters which served the various crew stations, infirmary, mess, engineering and of course crew quarters. It wasn’t glamorous, but the ship got cargo from point A to point B and generally managed not to decompress in the process.
The airlock was filled with spacers shrugging into the bulky hardsuits they would need to move cargo outside the ship. A hardsuit was fully armoured against the rigors of space and even had an internally powered exoskeleton to help move cargo in low gravity, while a standard shipsuit was little more than an airtight membrane that would allow you to survive in vacuum long enough to get to an emergency respirator. High-end shipsuits incorporated sensors and inflating membranes which would seal off any leaks, staunch wounds and immobilize injured limbs. In space where you could not expose a limb to provide medical treatment, a smart system like a shipsuit was a must.
Once in port every hand was put to work moving the cargo out of the ship’s holds and into the Deimos' many drayage facilities from which their clients would collect and reship the cargo themselves. It was heavy grueling work. The crew were well aware of how important it was to turn around cargo quickly, every hour in port was an hour Beowulf wasn’t making money. Except of a skeleton crew manning the reactor and of course Terina watching the bridge, everyone was here suiting up for the back-breaking labour of moving cargo—except for Iritana.
Iritana’s job was in many ways just as difficult, she had to deal with the customs inspections, shipping contractors, and local dockworkers. Occasionally she wished all she had to do was manhandle a few metric tonnes of cargo, but her duties hadn’t been that simple for many years now.
“Captain,” a rough voice like grinding rocks called out as she prepared to cycle through the airlock, “You give em hell.”
Iritana turned smiling grimly at the speaker. He was a large man, his brown skin overlain by tattoos emphasising his Maori heritage. Where he was bulky muscle overlaid with a generous helping of the fat spacers were prone to, Iritana was slight and slim but just as muscular, pound for pound. She reached out a hand and roughly slapped him on the cheek, once, twice, then a third time. The man didn’t flinch, taking the blows one after the other stoically.
“A Upane! Uncle,” Iritani replied, “Ka Upane!”
Hake thrusting his tongue out and down grimacing fiercely before smiling and gently returning his captain’s slap—gently.
“Ka Upane, up the ladder Captain.”
The pair had shared this ritual ever since a four year old Iritani had slapped her uncle when he’d first shown her his Haka face, the traditional war grimace. Most of the Beowulf’s crew were spacers from the Neo Zealand orbital but few were of Maori descent. Each and every one of them got a kick out of their captain and her uncle, the first officer, exchanging blows in the airlock.
The ritual complete, Iritani slipped on a small collapsible helmet and cycled through the airlock. The helmet and airtight shipsuit would be adequate for the brief walk along the ship’s gantry to the moon’s airlock. a brief walk ‘outside’ was nothing she hadn’t done before, and it would give her time to prepare.
Prepare for what, she had no idea, but no one gave a prime berth to a tramp like Beowulf without expecting something in return.
The chill of open space was just working its way out of Iritana’s joints as she collapsed her helmet into the satchel slung across her shoulder. The freight port was vacant except for a couple of bored looking stevedores shifting pallets of cargo from one side of the vast warehouse to the other. In spite of the minimal gravity, less than a thousandth that of Earth, the dockworkers wore large exoskeletons, each one equipped with powerful electrostatic muscles. The inertia of such large loads required a lot of kinetic energy to move...
Iritana gave the workers plenty of room as she edged her way towards an airlock. Cargo movers could be very dangerous if you didn’t give them a wide berth. The loaders had powerful arms and shoulder assemblies which sat across the operator’s shoulders like an armoured shroud. Cargo loaders looked a little like an unholy combination of bear and squid, with long tentacle like manipulators projecting out of the lower body of the operator.
A thick armoured hatch opened to allow her entrance to the docking bay and once cycled through the cargo airlock she was into the Deimos station proper, she watched her crew through a service window, tromping out of the Beowulf and offloading the shipment of exotic foodstuffs the Beowulf had brought with her. With luck, she’d meet them in a couple of hours at the Gravity Well, the crew’s favourite bar.
She knew that by the time she attended to business and arrived at the Gravity Well, most of the spacers would be well into a floating crap game, or halfway to starting a bar brawl. The Gravity Well was popular with the station’s working class and well known as the place to procure items or services that the Martian authorities might not approve of. Some of Beowulf’s most lucrative commissions had come from meetings in the Gravity Well – and just as any problems had come from there as well. But that would come later for now Iritana had her mind firmly set on business. She had to secure payment from the various freight forwarders and arrange escrow for the ship’s return leg. With a solid clunk accompanied by a blast of vacuum chilled mist, the airlock finished its cycle. She entered the transfer station and walked right into the arms of two solidly built port officials.
“Come with us please.”
She looked at the two men, one of whom had his hand firmly on the grip of his holstered weapon. Initially she’d taken them for custom agents or port patrol, but these were the tan uniforms of the Martian Security Agency. Deimos was a free trading port; their presence on the moon was a curiosity. The MSA had no jurisdiction here.
“Is there a problem agent?”
The lead agent bounced towards her, obviously unaccustomed to the insignificant gravity of Deimos.
“Please come with us please, Captain,” The agent reached out a hand, either to take Iritana’s arm or to steady himself. His intention didn’t matter. With a twist of her hips and sharp pull on the agent’s outstretched arm, Iritana spun the agent into the smooth rock of the transfer tunnel.
She turned towards the second agent who was bobbing with tension as he tried to draw his weapon. Iritana launched herself headlong, slamming into his broad torso, knocking the wind out of him. Grabbing a handhold in her left, the agent’s slowly spinning hand gun fell into her right. She pulled herself up against the wall and aimed the weapon at the first agent, who was drawing his own gun.
“Now, boys, I think I’m fine right here.”
The agent hesitated, gun halfway out of the holster. Barely containing his fury, he replaced the pistol. Iritana gestured with the barrel at the man’s holster. With a sigh, he snapped the flap over the butt of his gun.
“Assaulting a Martin Security Agent is a felony. I could have you executed for this.”
“Of course you could…” Iritana paused, “were we on Mars.”
The second agent’s scowl deepened, but the first simply shrugged dismissively.
“We’re all for respecting jurisdiction, and that’s exactly what we wanted to talk to you about.”
The two agents slowly moved together, awkwardly using the hand holds to orient themselves to the floor of the passageway.
“We have a room reserved at the—”
“I don’t think so,” Iritana cut him off, “my matua would be scandalized were I to go anywhere with two strange men I’d just met. “
Neither man recognized the Māori word for ‘father’ but they understood the tone.
“Now just a minute...”
“No! You wait.” The gun waved dangerously from one man to the other, “I’d ask to see some ID, but the truth is that I don’t really give a damn who you are. Now shut up, take a breath, and tell me what you want.”
The agents looked at each other, then back at Beowulf’s captain, resigned to the situation.
“I know you don’t care, but my name is Agent Jensen and this is Agent Franks.”
“Those your real names Agent Jensen?”
“Thought not, go on.”
“We have a slight jurisdiction issue ourselves. Seems a wanted fugitive has taken up residence on Deimos.” Jensen slowly pulled a small sheaf of holopaper from his jacket and carefully handed it over to her.
Iritana took the sheaf, skimming it while still keeping the hand gun leveled at the Agents. The grounders weren’t even wearing shipsuits, Iritana noted as she scrolled through the information on the holopaper. Rookie mistake that’ll get you killed soon enough, a shipsuit was a must for any experienced spacer.
She turned her attention to the holopaper. It contained a picture of a well-groomed man in his mid-30’s wearing an exquisitely tailored business suit. The rest of the document was more akin to a ledger than any rap sheet Iritana had seen before – and she’d seen quite a few. There was a lot of data concerning stock manipulation, insider trading, and selling of proprietary secrets, all of which were almost an expectation in a high level Martian executive. What had the MSA’s shorts in a bind was the vast amount of currency that Grinnell had somehow moved off planet. Moving capital and liquidating assets was strictly regulated on Mars and inner solar system, both the MSA and Terran Trade Conglomerate took their piece of the pie and the money that Grinnell had funnelled off Mars was a multibillion credit pie. A pie that that Mars had no idea how he had taken and were apparently determined to find out how and make sure it never happened again. they would close that loophole, even if they had to break inter-solar law to do it.
Iritana had been sitting in the Beowulf’s captain’s seat for just over 6 years and while most people figured the seat was little more than a glorified navigation posting, it was in fact more akin to running a small business with all the responsibilities and strategic thinking that entailed. This viewpoint allowed her to read between the raw data the holopaper contained. She saw the effect of a stolen patent on a small start-up, the devastation of merging two corporations and the gutting of a company pension plan. The untallied human toll was easily as broad as the monetary loss, she could only guess at how many displaced workers had committed suicide as their jobs dissolved into Grinnell’s easily liquidated assets and moved off planet.
Disgusted, she slotted the edge of the holopaper into a bracelet built into her shipsuit, downloading its contents into the suit’s sophisticated computer before tossing the sheet back to Jensen.
“Nice looking guy, if you like corporate scumbags.”
Jensen smiled. Franks fumbled after the holopaper, which was floating past his grasping hands.
“We like him too. So much so that we’d like to take him back to Mars with us.”
“That paper isn’t a warrant.”
“Corporate law doesn’t require a warrant. The attached ledger is enough for any Terran Conglomerate or Martian Corporate circuit court.”
Iritana laughed at his naiveté.
“Not on Deimos it isn’t.”
“No,” Jensen conceded the point, “It isn’t, but if Grinnell should find himself back on Mars or even Phobos we’d have jurisdiction.”
“So go get him, he obviously has it coming.” Iritana tossed the hand gun back to Franks... “What’s it got to do with me?”
“Word is you’ve done this kind of job before.”
Iritana raised one eyebrow quizzically, not many people know about what happened on Daedalus – or what it had cost her.
“What do you want?”
“Simple. Get Grinnell off Deimos and we’ll take it from there.”
“And if I decline.”
Jensen’s smile became feral.
“Then the MSA will take an interest in your transit documents.”
“Beowulf is a free trader offloading at a free port.”
“Maybe so, but your goods move through Phobos and that’s Martian territory. Your Terran Conglomerate shipping papers won’t hold water there.”
The MSA was known for embroiling merchants in mounds of paperwork when they wanted to. Sure, Beowulf could offload directly to the surface using the ship’s launches, but that would take weeks of back to back landings. Iritana ran the numbers in her head. The reaction mass needed alone would bankrupt the ship. Jensen had her by the short hairs.
“Seems you hold all the cards.” She conceded, “I do this the ship gets indefinite customs privileges.”
“Done. Your ship registry will be upgraded before you undock.”
Iritana knew better than to simply waltz into the corporate sector and present Grinnell with what passed for extradition papers on Mars. For one thing, she had no authority to exercise any such papers and attempting to do so would be tantamount to kidnapping, at least until she was off of Diemos. She had to come up with an angle, something that would satisfy the Martian thugs and wouldn’t get her killed by some overzealous corporate security asset protecting Grinnell. She’d been around long enough to recognize that something wasn’t right but what was it… She needed time to think.
The Gravity well was perfect for thinking, or not depending upon the whim of the patron. It catered to all types, provided those types were hard drinking hard working cargo movers and engine apes. Upper ranks and corporate types were not welcome in the Gravity Well and the bar’s present owner, Eddie Rowe made sure that this was clear whenever one of them tried to make themselves at home in ‘his’ bar. Rowe was a long-time patron of the Gravity Well, somehow or other he’d purchased the bar from the previous owner. It wasn’t the only shady deal to take place in the bar – not by a long shot.
“A Jupiter Eclipse,” Iritana ordered as sidled up to the bar and put her credit chip in front of Eddie. The Gravity Well didn’t run a tab and every credit chip was held accountable for any damages. Eddie had learnt that the hard way. “Kitchen open?”
The bar ran its kitchen to match the cargo mover’s shift rotations, and it was never a sure thing that those rotations would match the orbital transfer station’s artificial sunset cycle. They varied with the amount of cargo due in and Eddie was damned if he’d pay a line cook to man the stove if there wasn’t going to be anyone to eat it. Those poor bastards looking for a meal outside of a shift change would have to make do with a pint of stout and bag of crisps.
“Sure.” Eddie replied, “What’ll you have?”
“BBQ Pork pull sandwich.”
“Give me five minutes.”
Iritana nodded and took a seat in a booth near the back of the bar and nursed her drink as she waited for her lunch. The Jupiter Eclipse was what passed for a Harvey Wallbanger on Diemos. It was essentially the same, except the vodka was some sort of alcoholic fuel line cleaner refined for human consumption and the Galliano was a long chain polymer that contributed a vaguely vanilla-liquorice aftertaste. It used to be called a Wallbanger, but some enterprising corporate lawyer analyzed the ingredients and the Wallbanger people sued the Gravity Well. A few thousand credits were exchanged and the Jupiter Eclipse was born, no hard feelings.
A month later the lawyer was found floating outside the station without an EVA suit, and his suit on behalf of Budweiser was left unfiled.
Iritana wasn’t much of a drinker, but she felt obligated to keep up with the crew in that regard and while the pedigree of the Jupiter Eclipse’s ingredients were definitely suspect, she enjoyed the taste of the orange juice it contained. She knew the juice was genuine as she’d brought it in with her from Neo Zealand on Beowulf’s last run. The taste reminded her of home and helped her think.
“Lunch.” Eddie proclaimed as he slid a plate of shredded meat on a sloppy bun across her table. The plate jostled slightly in the low gravity, perhaps intending to entice her to eat it.
Still her encounter with the Mars agents had left her hungry, and while cloned meat sandwiched between two slices of vat extracted yeast by-products barely qualified as a sandwich, she thanked Eddie and began eating. She wasn’t disappointed by the taste, but neither was she impressed by it. It filled a void, no more no less, but it also satisfied the hunger which was distracting her from the issue at hand.
In between bites of her sandwich she looked over the data she’s scanned into her shipsuit’s bracelet. The unit displayed a holographic display across her inner forearm making it seem as if her flesh opened into a number of cascading files, each holding specific and often personal details of her one Tomas Grinnell. Graduated with honors from the Martian E’cole Scholastic, a midlevel university with a good reputation. Iritana found it interesting that the man wasn’t educated on Earth, in her experience all the real bastards had some sort of Ivy League school in their background.
She flipped through a few more of the files and noted that a lot of the material was covered with very official cryptographic filters. Whatever Grinnell had been doing on Mars was very hush hush, even his corporate employer’s identity was disguised with a privacy filter. The lack of data didn’t invalidate the warrant, but it did increase Iritana’s unease with the whole situation. Theft of corporate secrets was one thing, but there were so many holes in this guy’s files that she didn’t really have any idea what he was supposed to have done back on Mars.
“Mind if I sit?”
Iritana looked up from her studious inspection of her forearm. Standing in front of her was Tomas Grinnell in the flesh, holding a Jupiter Eclipse in both hands. She nodded to the seat across from her and he slid one of the drinks across to her as he sat down.
“I understand you are partial to these. I hope you don’t mind my interrupting your lunch.”
“No problem,” Iritana replied around the final bites of her pulled pork. She washed it down with her drink and reached out for the one Grinnell had brought. She looked at him as she took a swig from the fresh drink. Grinnell looked as smooth as his dossier picture, a little older perhaps, but not much. Probably the remnants of the corporate rejuvenation treatments wearing out now that he was a fugitive. But she had to admit he looked remarkably relaxed even here in a cargo mover’s bar.
“What’s the pitch?”
“I’m sorry?” He replied feigning confusion.
“The pitch. Say your piece, you obviously know why I’m here.”
Grinnell Scowled at the lack of courtesy she was showing him, but then this wasn’t a corporate boardroom or a debutante’s ball. Iritana was getting sick of surprise meetings.
“I know you’re not just the captain of a trading ship.”
“Well, I am the captain of my softball team back home as well.” This was true, and she did have a mean pitching arm.
“Yes well, I have to wonder why you might be meeting with agents from Mars. The very same agents who have been dogging my steps since shortly after I arrived here.”
“Who says I’ve been meeting with anyone?”
Grinnell took a long sip of his drink. Turning his nose up at the taste he placed it on the table in front of him.
“I have an… acquaintance in port security who monitored your exchange with said agents.”
“I would like to know what you three discussed.”
“Why not ask your friend?”
“Unfortunately the docking bay you arrived at is notorious for the fallibility of its monitoring equipment. It truly is a safety hazard, but back to the point – your conversation.”
Iritana sipped at her drink and regarded Grinnell with an appraising look. The man was calm now but under his veneer of control she could see that he was on edge. How far on edge she intended to find out.
“I’m not one to kiss and tell.”
Grinnell sighed, producing small pistol from his immaculate waistcoat and pointing at her. To his credit, he looked convincingly disappointed with the direction the conversation had taken. Iritana wasn’t buying it, not for a minute.
“I’m afraid I must insist.”
“I don’t know what I can tell you mister. I don’t know anything.”
“That… is unfortunate.”
Grinnell’s finger tightened on the trigger and the gun automatically loaded a round into the chamber with a nearly inaudible clack.
“This guy bothering you?” rumbled a deep voice from just behind Grinnell.
A large framed man dressed in the grubby reinforced shipsuit of a cargo shifter was standing just behind Grinnell. Neither of them had noticed him approaching and the silent approach of the man had taken them both by surprise. He had the look of a man who life had been anything but comfortable and that he was more than willing to make life uncomfortable to anyone who crossed him.
“Just having a talk about business with the good captain here is you must know,” Grinnell responded, his pistol now no longer in sight.
The man was looking directly at Iritana, apparently oblivious to Grinnell’s presence, though you could bet that he was noting every move the other man made.
“We were discussing security camera upgrades in B sector.”
“Security’s important.” The man sat down beside Grinnell scooting uncomfortably close to the man. “Doesn’t pay to neglect one’s security, take this bar for instance. Contraband detector’s been on the fritz for as long as I’ve been here. A man could walk into this bar with all sorts of weapons and such.”
“I’m sorry mister…” Grinnell probed. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“O’Malley, my friends call me Mike, but you… stick with O’Malley.”
“Be that as it may Mr. O’Malley. I was having a private discussion.”
Mike leaned over and picked up the untouched Jupiter Eclipse and took a long pull from it before gesturing behind him.
“Looks like you’re done. Door’s that a way, airlock’s a little further on.”
Grinnell’s face turned red with anger and he began to stand up, began but O’Malley’s left arm was suddenly on his shoulder holding him in place. Grinnell struggled to rise but the larger man’s grip held him in place. O’Malley gestured with his free arm, hooking a thumb at the door. Grinnell scowled as he slunk out of the bar rubbing his aching shoulder.
“I can handle myself you know.”
O’Malley looked at Iritana gauging the veracity of her statement. His eyes took in her cool unflustered gaze, and the ice behind her eyes. He evidently agreed with her as he grunted his agreement and finished the drink in his hand before continuing. He chose his words carefully.
“I imagine you can. You’re the captain of the Beowulf aren’t you?”
“Yes.” She grimaced, “I suppose you have business with me as well?”
O’Malley considered this, taking his time to turn the question over in his mind. Iritana began to grow irritated with this gruff man, no matter if he had driven off Grinnell or not. Finally, he answered.
“Not that I’m aware of, but the way I see it a cargo shifter like myself won’t have any business with a man like Grinnell and probably won’t in the future. But a freighter captain, well she can’t afford to be that picky. This week’s asshole is next week’s client.”
Iritana had heard her father say as much during his time as Beowulf’s captain, though he said it much more frequently now that he was portside as Chief financial officer at the ship’s Neo-Zealand offices. Put out to pasture he would say, but the truth was he’d worked hard and a nice office job surrounded by his grandchildren was a reward he deserved. He had the job, she’d have to work on the grandchildren.
“Well Mr. O’Malley, I suppose I owe you a thanks.”
“No thanks needed, busting the hump of a man like Grinnell is my pleasure.”
“Can I buy you a drink at least?”
O’Malley looked at his empty glass and swirled the remaining liquid around watching it slosh around as only a liquid in low gravity could.
“Well this one was… interesting.” He finally replied, “but I think the best part was the orange juice, be nice to get some more of that.”
“I might just be able to help with that.”
“Oh my God! This is great!”
O’Malley handed the glass back to Iritana who refilled it with fresh pulped orange juice.
“One of the perks of captaining a supply run from Neo-Zealand orbital. My family has been transporting fresh citrus to the inner planets for decades.”
She put another halved orange into the juicer and activated the machine. Mike’s glass filled with juice and the remaining pulp and rind were recycled into a small basin for later composting. Composting was important on any orbital, station, or ship as an efficient hydroponics section not only provided excellent citrus but ensured that the air was scrubbed of carbon dioxide. Mechanical filters could capture and bind carbon molecules but they couldn’t grow a potato, or a watermelon, or an orange.
Iritana sat down in the office Beowulf had reserved when she made port. It was small and cozy, but it had a desk, a couple of chairs, and enough room to store a few boxes. At the moment, she and O’Malley were perched over the desk sharing their drinks, while a couple of shiphands moved sealed crates into the room. The crates held samples of the ship’s cargo to show prospective clients and customs officials. The vacuum rated crates were a distinctive yellow hue signifying their exemption from port customs. Every ship held a few sample crates which were expedited through customs to allow trader captains to show their wares without having to go through the lengthy and tedious examinations that a ship’s full cargo were subject to. Oh they received the standard scans for weapons and common contraband items but were otherwise considered too small for any serious smuggling activity. For most trader ships these samples were thinly veiled bribes, or graft meant the smooth the business of trade in the inner solar system.
It was refreshing for Iritana to simply break the seal on one of the large crates to share a freshly squeezed drink with a man who enjoyed the delicacy. She opened the nearest one and tossed a plump orange to O’Malley. It floated in a slow gravity in a low arc that ended in the man’s meaty palm. He looked at it appreciatively then tossed it back to her. She resealed the crate ensuring that the lid registered a tight seal before turning back to her guest.
“I’m glad you are enjoying it, Mr. O’Malley.”
“Please call me Mike.”
“Mike then.” She halved another pair of oranges and slipped them into the juicer.
“Fresh fruit.” Mike mused, “I haven’t had anything fresh since I left the surface.”
“Born n’ raised.”
“So how did you end up on Diemos?”
Mike’s was silent for a moment before answering, lost in some memory from the past. The moment dragged on a little further than courtesy allowed before he replied.
“I had a little trouble with the corporations dirtside, once the dust settled I found I wasn’t welcome on Mars any longer.”
“I see,” Iritana frowned, “Grinnell seems to have had a little trouble dirtside as well.”
“Not the same,” Mike replied a little too quickly a little too adamantly, “It’s not the same.”
“Well there was a woman involved and her husband was a bit of a bastard – he was also a CEO.”
“I didn’t bankrupt my company or steal from my employees. Aside from popping a couple of MSA agents in the chops, no one got hurt.”
“They do seem to beg for it,” Iritana chuckled.
“Yeah most of them do. Though they have their fair share of good eggs in the basket as well.”
Iritana looked closely at Mike, trying to size him up.
“Are you a good egg Mike?”
He looked at her but she knew he was seeing something other than the shipping office. Something further way, something that brought him here.
“I try. I think that’s the best any man can say out here.”
“Hmmm, I suppose it is at that. You mentioned a woman?”
“That. That’s a story for another time.” He raised the glass, “with a drink somewhat stronger than this one.”
The silence dragged out for a long moment before he continued.
“Though to be honest I’m more interested in your story. What is your business with Grinnell?”
“I would be more than happy to discuss my business, were it not my business,” Iritana asked. “But why are you interested?”
“I work the docks. We see how Grinnell works the system and we see what he brings in.”
“So why don’t you stop it?”
“That’s not the way it works on Diemos. The docks keep to the docks, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.”
“Well, Mars doesn’t like it either.”
Mike considered this.
“Diemos doesn’t have an extradition process, well anything more formal than an open airlock anyways.”
“Mars isn’t looking to change anything, they seem content to game the system just like everyone else.”
“I might have an idea about that.” Mike patted one of the cases holding samples of fresh Neo Zealand oranges, “but first, how about another glass?”
A couple of hours or so later, Iritana had finished contacting her clients and organized the offloading of the Beowulf’s cargo. Mike was invaluable in this respect and had made the task go so much quicker that it normally would have. The man seemed to know everybody on the moon on a personal basis. He’d called shippers and cargo handlers he knew and had them at the Beowulf’s docking bay in half the time Iritana would have taken to simply negotiate the work itself, knowing full well the cargo shifters wouldn’t even arrive until many hours later. He’d even given her some leads on potential shipping contracts, along with an insightful commentary on the inner workings of the businesses. Who knew that Diemos Pharmaceuticals LLP was saddled with such crippling loan payments – apparently Mike did.
Iritana reviewed each and every clause of the contracts, and was surprised at how favourable the conditions and payments were. She seriously considered hiring O’Malley as her Diemos shipping contractor then and there but she knew better than to be that impulsive. O’Malley had his own agenda and a past she knew nothing about. Maybe it was just a white knight complex, maybe he was trying to atone for something that had happened down the gravity well on Mars – or maybe he was playing a deeper game. Yet strangely she trusted him instinctively, but business was business and no matter how impulsive she was with her loyalties when it came to Beowulf she was much more cautious.
However, now that business concerns were out of way, she had Grinnell and the Martian agents to deal with, which was why she intended to beard the lion in his den – the corporate sector. She always thought attacking difficulties head one was the best policy, usually it worked out for the best.
It wasn’t much of a hike to the corporate sector; Deimos was only about 12 kilometers and change in diameter. The moon’s transport and shipping activity took place just beneath the surface of the moon while residents tended to congregate closer to the core. Massive hollowed out caverns had been outfitted with warehouses, recycling facilities, offices, and all the various and sundry businesses which follow man where ever he travels. The Corporate sector was a huge hollowed out sphere
Iritana considered her options as she stepped into a transport tunnel that would take her directly to the corporate level. This section was housed within a huge complex arrangement of gyroscopic controlled motors that rotated the entire sector to simulate an Earth gravity. All of the personnel living on Diemos were required to spend a number of hours exercising within a full 1 gee environment and there were small gyms scattered across the moon which could accommodate a handful of exercisers, but the corporate sector was so large that it held hundreds of offices and apartments for the corporate elite.
It was common knowledge that the entire moon revolved around the corporate sector, this was true both economically and literally. It was so massive that every few weeks its rotation had to be halted and reversed lest the entire moon also began rotating. The sector was accessed via a central tunnel which pierced straight through the core of Diemos and used an intricate gimbal assembly to let travellers move tin the inhabited sections of the core. Engineers called to the sector as the washing machine as it was basically just a very large very sophisticated cylinder revolving inside the rock of the moon. The rest of the moon called it the washing machine due to the large amounts of currency that passed through the corporate sector, much of it unaccounted for by the Martian trade authorities.
Like much of Diemos, the tunnel was utilitarian, fused rock and steel molded into a smooth shaft deep within the heart of the moon. One end of the tunnel culminated at a private dock reserved for executives and exclusive cargo transfers and the other opened into the working sections of the moon and the few service businesses it contained. Mike had used his connections to get Iritana access this far, but it was up to her to gain access to Grinnell through one of the many secured spokes feeding off of the central core of the washing machine. That would be the hard part of the plan, so it was lucky indeed that Grinnell was waiting for her as she entered the tunnel.
Grinnell was waiting in the middle of the tunnel, pointing a small pistol at her.
“Did you really think you could sneak up on me in my own backyard?”
“I think you may have me mistaken for someone else.”
“There is little that happens on Deimos that I don’t know. When a two bit Neo Zealand freighter pulls a priority berth I get interested. When the captain meets with MSA agents I pay attention, but when she disrespects me in public I take it personal.”
Grinnell gestured with the gun to the opposite end of the tunnel, with little option Iritana pushed off in the low gravity and began a shuffling bounce down the metal tube. Grinnell followed, gun at the ready. The cylinder was long but in the low gravity, it didn’t take long for them to reach the end.
“I don’t suppose we can talk about this?”
Grinnell’s answering smile was more of a growl than anything else. Iritana had known few men like this, life in an orbital tended to weed them out, but the business world seemed to encourage them. Her father had taught her to always be wary of mowaho, outsiders, but especially those small minded businessmen who took offence at small slights. ‘It takes a big man,’ her father always said, ‘to not mind the little pricks.’ Of course he always claimed he was referencing Hamlet but Iritana was never able to find that passage. Sage advice, but not much help in her current situation.
“The time for talk has passed.”
Iritana shrugged again, moving forward as Grinnell gestured with his pistol again.
“Our last talk wasn’t all that interesting either.”
The airlock was closer now.
“Through no fault of mine,” Grinnell replied.
“True enough, but then I never really got to answer your questions before we were interrupted did I?”
Grinnell thought about this.
“O’Malley,” He spat out eventually.
“Yeah, that guy does poke his nose where it isn’t wanted. You known him long?”
“A few months, maybe a Terran year, but long enough to hate the bastard.”
Iritana laughed, as the floated closer to the tunnel’s end. She shrugged spinning slightly to face Grinnell as they floated closer to the airlock and the inevitable conclusion to this conversation.
“Look. I don’t know you or O’Malley from Adam, and I certainly don’t know your history together. All I know is you both have a nice little feud going and I hate playing second fiddle to anyone.”
Grinnell laughed. It sounded a little bitter and forced. Iritana hadn’t known the man long, but guessed most of the man’s laughter sounded that way.
“So…” She continued, “We’re both business people. There’s no reason we can’t cut some sort of compromise here is there?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I share what I know about Mars’ interest in you and you let me go.”
Grinnell considered this before shaking his head ruefully.
“I couldn’t trust you. If I was in your position I’d be making up stories wholesale to save my skin.”
Iritana’s back nudged up against the far end of the tunnel and the airlock imbedded in the tunnel’s cap. On the other side of the armoured door lay a small cargo bay and beyond that the icy void of space.
“I guess, but I do have the detailed warrants. A smart man like you should be able to figure out who has it in for you from that.”
“Hmm…,” Grinnell pondered out loud, “Might be able to do just that. Pull a few strings, call in some favours and get those warrants quashed. Might just be able to do that.”
He gestured firmly with the gun.
“Where is it?”
Iritana held out her shipsuit bracelet interface first, but Grinnell should his head.
“I don’t think so. You’re not the only one with access to personnel files, and I saw how you handled yourself with those ham handed Mars agents. I don’t make mistakes like that.”
He held out his own suit’s bracelet, a high end business model embossed and highlighted in chrome.
“Beam it over.”
Iritana touched a few controls on her bracelet and a moment later Grinnell’s suit confirmed receipt of the file with a muted chime. He quickly scanned the files, absorbing in the details with a decidedly calculating look. Once he was satisfied with the details he smiled at Iritana then coldly opened the airlock. With a whir and a heavy thunk the airlock cycled. Iritana looked inside briefly then returned her gaze to Grinnell.
“That it then?”
“So no negotiation, no compromise.”
“No compromise. I don’t like loose ends, and you my dear are a loose end.”
Iritana bristled at being called a loose end.
“And my ship?”
“I expect they will raise a stink, but space is a dangerous place and filled with hazards. People go missing all the time, who’s to say you didn’t take a berth with a rival trader and ship out during the night?”
“Okay then,” she replied stroking one hand nonchalantly across her bracelet and moving slowly towards her captor.
Grinnell was expecting her to rush him and raised his pistol to fire. At least he tried to raise his pistol, but his shipsuit was suddenly are rigid as steel and he was unable to move. She struggled helplessly as she floated slowly towards him.
“You may have noticed that your suit has activated its emergency seals.”
It was Iritana’s turn to share an evil smile.
“Oh just a little subroutine I imbedded in those transferred files. Not legal in the slightest, but it allows me to take control of your internal systems. Right now your suit thinks it’s been holed by a micro meteor. It’s trying to seal off the joints to stop the atmosphere and your blood from leaking out. Of course it doesn’t realize that nothing is actually wrong. But there you go.”
“You can’t do this?”
“Yet I just did.”
Iritana relieved the immobilized man of his weapon and nudged him into the airlock. He slowly floated into the small cargo bay, bumping up against an assortment of vacuum sealed crates, secured to the floor of the airlock. He ended up against a brilliantly hued yellow crate and stared back at Iritana his face pale with fear.
“You’ll never get away with this.”
“You said it yourself. Space is dangerous and people go missing all the time.”
“They’ll know. My associates will come after you.”
Iritana considered this.
“Who, your associate in security? The bottom feeders you do business with? I don’t think so. In fact, if they run true to type they’ll take your ‘absence’ as an opportunity to expand their own interests in Diemos. Nature abhors a vacuum they say, but businesses thrive in it.”
“Please,” Grinnell was crying, pleading now as the fear overwhelmed him. “We can talk about this.”
Iritana floated away from the open hatch allowing a second shipsuited figure to enter. Mike O’Malley took the pistol from Iritana and floated slowly to a locker on close by. He retrieved a helmet and firmly sealed it to his suit.
“The time for talk has passed Mr. Grinnell.”
Iritana closed and sealed the hatch.
“Free trader Beowulf, you are cleared to departure and descent to Mars.”
“Confirmed Diemos Flight Control. Releasing docking clamps.”
Iritana verified on her control panel that the clamps were in fact released before bringing the manoeuvering thrusters on line. The gentle thrust nudged her into the command chair as the huge ship slowly pulled away from the port. A few minutes later the ship was free or Diemos’ weak gravity and easing into the flight path that would take the ship into a lower orbit and closer to Mars’ second smaller moon, Phobos.
Once she confirmed the flight path was free and clear of obstacles or wayward ships, she handed the controls to one of the crew and headed aft. The ship was large but easy to navigate and it wasn’t long before she reached her destination. Keying the entry code she entered the cargo hold and was greeted by chaos.
“Watea – wait for the captain!” her uncle bellowed at the crew hands milling about him.
The crew were holding steady in front of the big man, who looked ready to drop the lot of them, his huge hands curling and uncurling into massive fists. Behind him were two of the yellow sample crates, both upturned with the sample cargo of oranges bobbing in the low gravity, a third was propped against the wall. Nikau, a new addition to the crew and only 16, was fiddling with the lid apparently oblivious to the fist Iritana’s uncle was about to lay upside his head.
“Tatari!” She yelled causing the hold to still and turn her way, all except Nikau, who like most sixteen-year-old boys had yet to learn to heed his elders. “Nikau! Touch that case and I swear we’ll leave you on Mars, or drag you back to your take you back to your kuia by your ear. She’ll as soon rap your bottom as uncle here would rap your skull.”
In spite of the tension in the air, the crew chuckled as Nikau’s face reddened. The boy slunk away from the crate and Iritana took his place.
“What’s happening here matua?”
Her uncle faced the crew as he spoke, raising his voice so all could hear.
“These taihara – villians all are wondering why our crates are returned filled.”
Iritana slowly regarded each crew member in turn, a half dozen men and women used to the hard work of a cargo shifter. On some ships they would be treated as little more that hired help, but on the Beowulf each was a full partner and due respect for the hard work they did. Iritana also knew that on a ship whose profitability could at time be marginal at best, every little bit help. It was tradition for the captain to share the profits from a sample crate with the crew. Some had gambling debts, others sick parents or newborn children.
“So, rather than ask your captain you decide to cause a riot and over what? Some spilled oranges?”
A couple of the crew looked away shamefaced, but most simply stared at her defiantly. She supposed they deserved and answer but she was still disappointed in their behavior. Keeping a lid tighter than a sealed airlock she addressed them.
“Had you asked,” She paused for effect, “I would have told you that we are en-route to Phobos to show our wares to a client.”
“Phobos? That’s half way down the well, fuel costs alone will eat up any profits we’d see from selling samples.” This came from Ria, a twelve-year veteran of the ship who had been on the Beowulf long before Iritana had become captain. Iritana had had to prove herself to the woman over and over again, but she felt she’d earned the woman’s respect, perhaps she was mistaken.
“The client has already transferred 2,000 Martian credits to the ships’ account with a promise of a further 5,000 if they like the product.”
Ria stared at Iritana in disbelief. 7,000 credits! Easily three times what they would have expected to get for samples, even factoring spent fuel. The crew looked like they had further questions but Iritana was in no mood to coddle them. She waved them back to their work and bent to picking up the loose oranges, which had all rolled together into a rough wobbling pile beside the open sample crates. Her uncle helped her and soon they had both crates upright, refilled and sealed.
He looked at her with concern.
“Irāmutu, Ria is right, no one pays 7k for oranges.”
Iritana popped the seal on the final crate, and looked down on the drugged and sleeping form of Grinnell huddled within the crate. A note was affixed to the man’s helmet – To Mars: compliments of Mike O’Malley. She smiled and resealed the crate.
“I don’t know uncle, they are pretty good oranges.”