Written by Allen Crowely
Story by Mike Acerra
Welcome to Lux Blox's ninth installment of Mars is for Misfits, the story of Athena Tripi, a tough and talented Sergeant in the Marine Corps who is put in the unlikely position of having to save not one but two worlds. Not caught up? Previous Chapter or Start from the beginning
The Truth is out There
The Holding Cell
New Kiev Municipal Building
New Kiev, Mars
Pattie Keane felt like jumping out of his skin.
It had been nearly a week since his Jeep Harbinger had died on a seldom used access road in the shadowlands. It was dumb luck the massive Smurfit truck had come along and offered to tow Pattie to their facility north-west of New Kiew. What happened next still boggles his mind.
They traveled for twelve hours at their top speed of sixty kph. Pattie noticed that the truck slowed down and sped up. This erratic motion seemed odd. They veered off of the road. They swerved back across the road and off the other side. His comms were out in his jeep. He followed along in tow.
Then the inexplicable. The truck stopped and two of the crew members got out of the truck and started running away from a third member. It looked almost like a comedy routine. They ran behind the massive truck tires and did their best not to get caught by the third crew member.
The third crew member stopped giving chase after a few minutes and stood still looking at them. He seemed to be waiting for something.
One of the two came out of their hiding place behind the rear six meter tall wheel and walked to the bridge. The two of them stood there and waited. A minute later the third left his hiding spot from beyond the front wheel. When they were all together they turned to look in the direction of the jeep.
“Oh you gotta be shitting me,” is all Pattie could get out.
He rummaged around to find a rivet gun he had jerry-rigged to fire bolts.
They stood and stared at him and his Jeep for a moment. Then all three crew members walked back to the truck and climbed the ladder. The truck powered up and rolled down the road, the line falling off from the truck. They had left him stranded in the remote wastes of Amazonis Planitia.
How he managed to make it on foot to New Kiev was a miracle. The damned Sheriff locked him in solitary confinement just when he thought he was saved. His cell was a windowless brick cube with a sink, commode, bed, and desk. He had no devices and no way to communicate. Now the only thing Pattie wanted was to get home.
The only consolation had been the food. Every day different babushkas brought in this or that Ukrainian dish. He didn’t know that there were so many ways to enjoy artificial sour cream. His jailer’s hospitality drove him nuts. All he wanted to do was enjoy hating them.
He heard a door open in the hallway outside his cell and footsteps approached. A medium built police officer opened the outer cell and closed the door behind him. It was Boyko, the Sheriff. A glass wall with a microphone and speaker system was the only thing that separated the two men.
Boyko sat down in the metal chair opposite Pattie. He did so with a strange almost effete way of celebrating the occasion of sitting. His posture was perfect, like he’d been a concert pianist in another life. Sheriff Vlad Boyko exuded hardness and strength and emitted the charm of a hotel concierge.
“Hello, Mr. Keane. How are you feeling today?”
“Pattie’ll do. Why can’t I contact anyone? You got me locked in here like a criminal.”
“You’re correct. I am indeed holding you without charges because there aren’t any and New Kiev codes allow it. I’m following public safety protocols. You yourself told us that you ran into something very strange out there, with that ore truck.”
He paused for a moment and studied Keane. “I want to make sure that you weren’t exposed to anything that may have been afflicting that Smurfit truck crew.”
“Jesus. I didn't even breathe the same air as them. I told you guys. They threw me a line and pulled me from 70 kilometers west of VL to somewhere north of here.”
“Well, let us run some tests and then you’ll be on your way.”
“That doesn't explain why you won’t let me talk to anyone.”
Boyco shifted in the chair. He looked back at the door in which he came and then shot a quick glance at Keane.
“No, I suppose it doesn't. Think of it this way. Folks around here have been skittish lately. Rumors are going around, as you may know.”
He looked back and forth at imaginary crazy people and smiled at Keane. “Some stranger than others. Then here you come looking the way you did and saying the things you were saying. I wanted to get to the bottom of this and find some real answers, before folks start spreading more crazy rumors.”
Pattie looked at him for a split second, trying to process what the sheriff was saying. “I don’t give two flying shits about any of that. I know what I saw. I’m not crazy.” He paused. “OK, I was dehydrated and breathing CO2. But those Smurfit drivers, they were the crazy ones. They were acting like they were possessed.”
“Yes. Can you see how talk like that might upset the locals?”
“I’ve got rights, and I’m pretty sure you can’t just hold me here because of some whack jobs who see little green men.”
The sheriff’s shoulders slouched and his face hardened. “New Kiev Code says I can. But I have someone coming that may help you out.”
”I hope it’s a lawyer.”
Boyko looked at his gold analog watch, a gift from his mother before he left for Mars eleven years ago. To him it was a piece of earth.
The building rattled and shook from retro thrusters firing against the adjacent landing pad. The Sheriff looked up to his right and sniffed, pretending to smell something, and smiled. “That’d be him. Sit tight a sec.” He turned and left Pattie Keane alone in his cell.
Ten minutes later footsteps and a strange tapping sound reached Keane’s ears. Sheriff Boyko came in first, followed by a tall man with a crew cut, grey stubble, and metallic legs. A shorter corpulent man in his late fifties with long white hair in a ponytail followed. The second man wore an antique US Marine Corps flight suit with graffiti and patches all over it.
“You gotta be shitting me. These are the guys?”
Vlad Boyko smiled. “Pattie Keane, may I introduce you to Sherm and Jessup.”
The fat man bowed and said, “Good Vibes and salutations, brother.” Boyko looked at Jessup, who wouldn’t meet his gaze but instead focused an intent gaze at Patty Keene.
“I don’t blame you for being pissed off, kid. So, I’m going to lay it straight. There are people who want to shut you up. Permanently.” Said Jessup, studying the man in the cell for any signs of illness.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You picked the wrong truck to give you a lift.”
“There wasn’t exactly a lot of traffic on the East Fork Utility Road. My jeep’s batteries and comms quit. If they hadn’t thrown me a line, I'd still be out there frozen as a board.”
“That truck may have been carrying something it shouldn’t have been. And it has not arrived at its destination.”
“You’re telling me no one knows where a truck the size of a two level hab is?”
“I don’t know all the facts yet. But whatever is going on, I suspect you’re a witness to some corporate crime. One that could cost certain companies billions. And there are some that would estimate that your life isn’t worth billions. You following?”
“NO! Not at all. This sounds like a load of paranoid crap. I don’t know shit. This is so messed up.”
Sherm shifted from one foot to another. “Totally! I couldn’t agree with you more. The corporations think they can pick and choose the winners and losers. Little guys like us need to stick together.”
Keane scrutinized Sherm. “Wait a minute. Don’t I know you?” His mind buzzed. That voice. Where had he heard it before? Then it came.
“You’re the “Shroominator”! You call in to Space Jew’s show every week with the latest conspiracy!” He started laughing. “Dude, I buy your weed!”
Sheriff Boyco groaned. Jessup rolled his eyes. Sherm blushed. “I hope it satisfies.”
“Dude. You’re like the only thing that makes this place half way bearable! Did you bring Brewster with you?”
“Actually, I did. He’s right here.”
Through the doorway walked in a Series 4 Laurel, Mechanic’s Mate. Nearly every centimeter of its surface etched or painted in psychedelic graffiti. On what would be its insect-like head, it wore a pale blue Baker Boy velvet cap.
Keane could make out quotes of beat poets and song lyrics from the twentieth century. He recognized the bible verses and the quotes from Thomas Paine and Fox Mulder. He couldn’t make sense of the comics collaged with Sanskrit passages from the Upanishads. The Vulcan wisdom and Klingon strategies in their 'original' language he found unintelligible. The quotes from Alan Watts, Eckart Tolle, and Kahlil Gibran were beyond him. The gestalt of Brewster’s ‘tattoos’ was none the less overwhelming.
“Is this the jeep guy?” Said Brewster, slight robotic tones echoed off the jail cell walls.
“It sure is. Brewster, meet Pattie Keane.” Sherm took a seat.
“How’s it going?”
“Brewster’s a robot?”
“I’ve been called worse. I’ve analyzed your urine and scanned you for any unusual markers or pathogens or foreign bodies. You're clean.”
Pattie Keane realized the situation had just gone from bad to absurd. But he relaxed, comforted by a sense of being able to trust this odd group. Plus, if they wanted him silenced, he’d be dead by now.
The sheriff opened the cell.
“Pattie, Sherm will take you back to his jump rocket. You two sit tight so the sheriff and I can tie up a few loose ends.” Said Jessup.
“I can’t believe I’m being released into the custody of the Shroominator.”
Sheriff Boyko motioned to Jessup. “You might want to see this.”
“What do we got?” Said Jessup.
“A group of honchos from Smurfit and a UNPO rep named Probst. A real A- hole. I’ve dealt with him before.”
“What do they say they want.”
“Let’s take a listen.”
Boyko motioned the control of the monitor and the sound came through the speakers.
In the lobby a short man, in a grey plaid Zara suit, yelled at the duty sergeant behind the clear screen. He was flanked by four men in green and white Smurfit utility “indoor/outdoor” suits.
“As I told you before. When the Sheriff returns you can ask him about this.”
“I have jurisdiction. Do you understand?”
“Sure. But so do I. You aren’t my Sheriff, Boyko is. And until Boyko says otherwise, no one gets to see anyone in our holding cells.”
“There’s no answer.” Said the biggest of the four Smurfit henchmen, shaking his phone in the air..
“Try Bondar.” Snapped at the man.
“OK”. He turned away and tapped the man next to him.
The two Smurfit goons tapped on their comlinks. They discovered their comms were not working.
“Are you jamming telecommunications here.” The big man asked.
“I’m not at liberty to say. But you are free to go elsewhere and try getting a signal.” The Sergeant said, smiling.
Boyko and Jessup continued to watch. “So they’re the ones with the local UNPOs in their pocket.” Boyko stroked his red beard.
“It seems that way.”
“Who else are you expecting?”
“Not sure. Let’s give it a few minutes.”
“I didn’t realize you ran in such high falutin circles. With celebrities like that shock jock, The Space Jew ‘Jake Marski’. And this other guy, Sherm, ‘the Shroominator’”. Boyco, brushed away the sarcasm that had fallen onto his beard.
The 12 year old girl read the note that summoned her to the principal's office from lunch. She sat down to eat with great anticipation. It was one of her favorites, a tossed salad with poppy seed and strawberry vinaigrette. She left her tray and walked to the office.
Mrs. Pendry, the principal, greeted her at the door and led her into the office. A tall blonde woman with giant almond-shaped brown eyes, sat there.
“Miss Devereaux, I was telling our guest about the conversation we had yesterday. Maybe you can explain it to her.”
Pilar faced the guest, but was stunned into silence. The woman seemed to have a strange childish nature, as if she was only disguised as a grown up. Her style and beauty overwhelmed Pilar.
“Hello, Pilar. You don’t have to be shy with me. I’m actually very interested in learning more about you. My name is Cassandra Pacheko.”
“What would you like me to tell you?” This woman had earned no trust with Pilar yet.
“Just tell me what you told Mrs. Pendry yesterday.”
“Well, we were given the assignment in Mr. Allen’s history class to make the world a better place. So I gave it some thought.”
“According to Mr. Allen, you jumped out of your chair the moment you heard the assignment. He said you proclaimed that you had the solution. That does not sound like you gave it much thought.”
Pilar looked down to the floor.
The woman cleared her throat. “Pilar Devereaux. Look at me.”
Pilar looked up at the woman, whose eyes had lost their childish nature and now looked fierce.
“You should never feel ashamed for being the smartest person in a room.” She then turned to the principal and said “Or a school.”
“So what is it you said to Mr. Allen and later to Mrs. Pendry?”
“I’m, uh. Well, if we want to make the world a better place, we should start here. We should start with a problem that we are most familiar with, which is our school and each other. We should look at the problem in terms of first principles. Like how wasteful or efficient our school is, for instance. Like, we hired three janitors to clean the school, and that costs so much money. And meanwhile, we could learn much if it was the students who maintained the building and grounds. Then, about the finances of the school. You know, what measures we could take to better use our resources.”
“You certainly did. Tell Miss Pacheko what you recommended we ought to do.”
The girl looked down to the floor again. She remembered Mrs. Pacheko's admonishment, raised her head, and looked into the woman's eyes.”
“I said we should fire the principal and most of the staff and look for people who actually want to be here and teach us. I said that we should not have school until we can agree on what we want to learn and how and why we should learn it.”
“You get the picture.” Said the Principal, in a triumphant prosecutorial tone.
“Indeed. Pilar, would you mind stepping out so I can have a word with Mrs. Pendry?”
Pilar left the office and closed the door behind her. She heard muffled voices. Then she heard her principal raise her voice in a shrill tone. The door opened and Mrs. Pendry burst out of the office. As she passed, she looked down at Pilar and gave her a look of disgust and bewilderment. She left the office door open behind her. The woman was still sitting in the chair.
“Come in, Pilar.”
Pilar entered the room. She wondered. ‘What had changed? What had happened?’
“Pilar, how would you like to come work for me?”
She starred again into the deep pond water brown eyes. Her heart leapt. She felt as though she was being broken out of a prison.
“Well, I just heard you say that you felt comfortable taking charge. Is that right?”
“What kind of a job would it be?”
“Why, making the world a better place. What else?”
Pilar saw that she was hitting the outskirts of New Kiev. She slowed the Triumph Land Rocket GT from her 250 kph cruising speed to a less conspicuous 30 kph.
She found the Sheriff’s Department of New Kiev, located on Skovoroda Plaza, the central square. It was one of the oldest buildings in town. She parked her bike in front. Built in the colonial style, it was a large two-story rectangle of ‘Pressed Mars’ blocks on the outside. Sand and loose soil piled against it in dunes, which helped it blend into the array of newer dome-style buildings around it. Built before the standardization agreements, it had several access ports for different types of vehicles. Above the entry portals, a slogan was emblazoned into the stone. “The world tried to capture me, but didn't succeed.” Pilar pondered this a moment, glanced back at Skovoroda plaza and went inside.
She made her way through the airlock with her six-legged Laurel behind her. She saw a vestibule with benches and shelves to store one's domes and suits. She counted five helmets and e-suits. Centered in a large plexi-window was a second seal that led to the lobby. It was clean and comfortable but not fancy. There were places for people to sit and wait, a coffee maker, some awards hung on the walls. At the end of the lobby was a meter-and-a-half wall topped with a clear plexi-barrier. It separated the innards of the constabulary office from the public area. On the other side sat a desk sergeant.
“Wait a minute. You don’t see this every day.” Said Boyko.
On the screen of the lobby a tall slender woman came through the airlock. She wore a rubber ducky yellow environmental suit. Following her was a six-legged Laurel Medic’s Mate.
“Let’s turn up the sound.”
She took off her helmet, tucked it under her arm, and kept her suit on, as she walked to the duty sergeant’s counter.
The five men made room for her to get to the sergeant’s desk. They did not hide their scans of her, from her raven-hair to her rust colored boots. Women were a minority on Mars, forty percent of the population, tops. This one seemed as developed as a lifetime earther yet moved with the grace of one born on Mars.
Pilar smiled at them and strode to the sergeant's desk. Quite the crowd for a Monday afternoon in New Kiev, she imagined. Who are these yahoos? She subvocalized, her rear molar transmitting. “L, Defend, group of five may be a threat.” She turned her focus to the Sergeant.
“I wonder if you can help me, Sergeant. I’m Dr. Fairhousen. I’m with the MCDC. I’ve been informed that you have someone in quarantine for examination and assessment.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but I have orders that no one sees anyone in holding until the Sheriff returns.”
The men behind her scrutinized her and passed glances to each other.
“Excuse me, Doctor.” Said the short man in the group.
She turned around. “Yes?”
“I’m Probst.” He confidently proclaimed, before noticing the jade green eyes staring back at him. He involuntarily swallowed. “We’re here to pick up a Smurfit driver under UNPO authority. I hope that’s not who you’re here to see.”
“I’m with the Martian Center for Disease Control. I believe that in this situation I would have authority. Wouldn’t be good to release anyone who’s come into contact with a dangerous contagion.”
“Who contacted you?”
“My immediate supervisor, Director Jackson.” She turned back the sergeant, who was enjoying the exchange.
“Sergeant, I need to speak to your supervisor. It is urgent, as this may be a situation requiring quarantine and contact tracing.”
“I’m, sorry, Doctor. The Sheriff will be back shortly. You will have to wait.”
She noticed that she could not access the cloud. She had wanted to run an ID check on the goon squad. Local Smurfit, most likely. The UNPO rep was probably on the Smurfit payroll also.
The laurel was streaming an optical display from its vantage point. She saw one man whisper to the fellow standing next to him. The body language was plain to her. She had been made. They probably knew about Chester Humboldt and have been put on the lookout for someone matching her description. The other man cocked his head.
Back in the office Boyko got off the phone and looked at Jessup.
“My Sergeant says her name checks out. She’s from the CDC.” Said Boyko.
“Yeah? How the hell would the MCDC know you have someone here?”
“Well, let me make another quick phone call. I know people too, J.”
“Hello, this is Sheriff Boyko in New Kiev. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. Yes, Thank you. You have the most amazing voice. It’s true. There is a doctor in your office. I think her name is Fairhousen. Is it possible that I might be able to speak with her? Uh huh. Oh, I understand.” He looked at Jessup. “She’s in New Texas. They got that black mold. The one that’s killing the Mushrooms down there. Well it sounds like they need her more than I do! By the way, I'm taking you out to dinner next time I’m in town. I am completely serious. Thank you, Yolanda. Beautiful voice, beautiful name. I'll be looking for you. Goodbye. Oh, what is that doctor’s first name? Thank you.”
Jessup and Boyko looked back at the situation in the lobby.
Two of the Smurfit men seemed to share pictures on their phones. They kept shooting Dr. Fairhousen suspicious looks. All the men turned and looked at the woman. The short man addressed her.
“Were you in Copernicus City today?”
“No, I’ve been in Lonesome and New Texas for the past two weeks. But, I was there for the cholera outbreak a couple of years ago. Why?”
She could see that her L had shifted the weight off its front legs. If necessary, it could launch itself into the group of men with the force of a car travelling at 60 kph. He could swing his legs like aluminum baseball bats, and he could grapple like a holo fighter.
Just then the buzzer went off and the Sergeant’s door swung open. Out sprang Sheriff Boyko in the sky blue and brown uniform of a New Kiev police officer.
“Connie!” Thanks for coming on such short notice. You look wonderful, as always.”
Pilar was trained to roll with the unexpected. If the Sheriff knows Connie Fairhousen, he knows she ain’t. “Thanks, Vlad. You don’t look so bad yourself. But I may have to give you a checkup too.”
“Ooh! Promises promises! Let’s get you in and out so you can get back to New Texas. I hear they're having trouble with mold again!”
“Excuse me! Sheriff Boyko.”
The sheriff turned his head as he directed the doctor through the door. “Yes, how can I help you?”
“We’ve been waiting here for an hour. You are holding one of our employees.”
“Sergeant, is this true?”
“I don’t know. Who is the employer?”
“Yes, good question. Who is the employer and what is the name of the employee?”
“We represent Smurfit Mining. We were told that a truck driver of ours was being held here.”
“Oh. Well then, sergeant, do we have any truck drivers in the lock up?”
“No sir. We have Jerzy Platz.” The Sergeant boomed in an official voice.
Sheriff Boyko elaborated from memory and his knowledge of the community. “He’s a barber. A particularly good one, before weekends when he does his drinking.”
“Alexi Fedorov is back.” Said the Sergeant.
“Oh, that’s a shame. Alexi is a maintenance man for New Kiev Solar. A penchant for fighting.”
“And Pattie Keane.”
“Yes, the electrician. Another drinker I believe. Sergeant, please double check the blotter and see if their driver came in and left overnight.” He turned his attention back to Pilar. “Come, my dear.”
“Well who is it the doctor is here to examine?”
“Mr. Smurfit, the desk sergeant will help you find your employee.” said Boyko. In a more firm and annoyed tone.
“I’m Cooper. We work for Smurfit.”
“Be that as it may, gentlemen. We have work to do.”
Boyko then saw the warmer by the coffee station.
“Ooh. You’re in luck, gentlemen. Today is Chebureki day! The sergeant’s mother brings in food everyday for the staff and anyone in the lockup. Pork or beef, sergeant?”
“Lamb! Synthetic, of course, but still delicious! Please help yourself. In fact, take some home with you to your families. The sergeant’s mother always makes too much.”
The sheriff, the woman, and the Laurel disappeared through the door and into the corridor beyond. Boyko led her to a conference room.
Inside the round conference room stood a grey haired man with mechanical legs. He spoke as she entered the doorway “Ok. We’ll go first.” He offered her a seat on the interrogator's side of the table and took the one across from it.
She didn’t say a word. This smelled like a trap. Not as complex as many she had survived. But this wasn’t about getting out, she had her orders to get to the bottom of this issue at all costs. But she figured that it wouldn’t hurt to find out what these yahoos knew.
She looked at the Sheriff, and it seemed his function was getting her from the lobby to the conference room. She listened to the man in front of her deal out his cards. Whoever these guys worked for, they seemed to know that she wasn’t Fairhousen and that she wasn’t Smurfit. Maybe they suspected she was with SARSA. Interesting.
“We all know Smurfit screwed the pooch.”
“Really. How so?” Here we go, she thought.
“L phage. We found one near Olympus Mons in the shadowlands.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Pillar’s mind reeled. Who the hell were these guys? How did they know about L phage?
The intercom crackled. “Boss, the UNPO guy, Probst, and his Smurfit buddies, just ran outside. One of those goons said he was catching a holo they needed to see. They seemed pretty upset about something.”
“Interesting. Thank you sergeant.”
“Oh and sergeant?”
“Did any of them take the chebureki?”
“I’m not sure. And Sir. I think you might want to take a look at this broadcast. I’m looking at it now. I think it has something to do with your guests. I’m sending you a link.”
Boyko activated the holo projector on the ceiling between Pilar and Jessup. The three of them shared a look.
The room lit up with the holographic image of a woman walking in a dome wearing a Husqvarna mining helmet.
A loud familiar voice came booming out of the speakers in the ceiling.
“What you are seeing is holograms we just received. It was taken this morning someplace near Lycus Sulci by local algae farmers.”
“Dig three.” Whispered Pilar to herself.
“Is that...” said Boyko.
“Jake Marzky.” Jessup said, finishing his sentence.
“The radio guy? How did he get a hold of something like this.” Pilar asked.
“This comes to us from our friend the Shroominator. He says that what we’re seeing comes from a mining operation on the southwestern edge of Lycus Sulci.”.
“That unthinking son of a psilocybin shroom.” Said Jessup.
“Why in God’s good name would he share it with Marzky?” Marveled Boyko.
Pilar interrupted. “This is dig three. A clandestine Smurfit mining op. Smurfit was slant drilling into Lycus Sulci.”
“Guess that explains your involvement. SARSA has mining rights to the LC.” Said Jessup.
Pilar liked this guy's style. He seemed to be playing everything out in the open. What was his angle? He was a riddle to her.
“Who are these people?” She said as she began to walk around the room to gain the perspective of whoever had made the holographic video.
“It’s my sister and her husband. They’re algae farmers. They're the ones who discovered phage larva on their farm and traced it back to this place a few hours ago.”
Pilar walked closer to the woman’s hologram. She spun around and looked at Jessup.
An ocean of new thoughts began to swim in Pilar’s mind and her first impulse was to attack. This did not add up.
“You're Jessup Halliday?”
“In the flesh.”
“Margeret Haliday just happened to discover illegal biotech crawling around on her algae farm? She invented the damned thing twenty years ago with V’rom Allison. Are you shitting me?” Pillar bit hard on her third molar. It was a signal for the laurel to prepare to attack.
The Laurel signalled an acknowledgment of the order. And sent a message back to her.
“Jessup Haliday’s story is consistent with Martian records. There is a Margeret and Dean Tenderly who have been algae and shrimp farming for ten years. Their property is located on the route of the Smurfit truck. We have no intel to suggest she’s made any contract with SARSA or Smurfit personnel in twelve years.”
“That's how she ID'ed it. We're lucky they found it. You’re not the only one who thinks this is strange. Let's keep an open mind.” Jessup said. He knew this person was still an unknown. Though he expected brains and skills to go with the SARSA pedigree.
“Oh my God.” Said Boyko, breaking the eye-lock between Jessup and Pilar. They looked at the room as it began to fill with a labyrinth of suspended bodies, fixed to the dome’s ceiling. Hundreds of worm-like creatures entering and exiting people’s gruesome contorted forms.
“Jeesuus Christ.” Said Jessup. ““screwing the pooch” is an understatement.”
Pilar whispered in her molar. L, “Stand down. Get back to the bike.”
They continued to watch the action play out as Maggie and Dean made it out of the fourth dome.
“How did your Tesla know to pick them up?” Asked Boyko.
‘These guys were full of surprises.’ Pilar thought as she realized that Jessup must have uploaded a protection AI onto the Tesla.
They watched as the Tesla stopped by some heavy machinery.
“Why did the Tesla stop? What are they doing now.” Said Boyko.
“It looks like they are activating a blast furnace.” Said Jessup. His face was hot with anxiety. He had in fact programmed the Tesla to protect Maggie and report back to him what they found. But stopping at this device, and locking them out of the controls? That was beyond what he thought the Tesla would do. Something else was at work here.
“Yes, look at that conveyer and pug mill. They are filling the drill sight with molten basalt. Why would they do that?” Said Boyko.
“They are sealing the mine. It’s quieter than explosives.” Said Pilar.
“Well if they were trying to be secretive the cat’s definitely out of the bag.” Said Boyko.
The holographic feed went out , and the announcer came back on.
“You have been viewing a recording made today in the region south west of Lycus Sulci. We believe it was taken by algae farmers Margaret and Dean Tenderly. Minutes after the feed went out the following audio distress signal was sent some distance from the site. We have no reason to doubt the following distress message and the holographic recording you just saw are authentic. They are time stamped today at 11:39 AM.
A woman's voice came over the speakers. A voice laced with desperation and devastation.
Pilar’s stomach immediately tugged. She heard in this voice the sounds of shock and loss.
“MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY. This is Margaret Tenderly. Amazonis Planitia. My Coordinates are 213 degrees 35 minutes East by 15 degrees 16 minutes North. I am in a Tesla Metaforá rover. There’s been an accident. Require immediate emergency assistance. This is a class one contagion protocol. I repeat. This is a class one contagion protocol. Deadly organism. Unknown organism. It killed. It killed my husband and everyone at a drill site 1 kilometer south of my position. Need assistance. Over?”
The sergeant’s voice cut in over the intercom.
“Sheriff, we’re getting an all points alert that there’s been an incident at a school in the VL.”
“Some nine year old kid brought a machine gun to school that he claims he designed himself for his show and tell. The principal put the school on lockdown and called the authorities.”
“Now how would a nine year old have the resources to make a machine gun.” Said Boyko.
Jessup stood and walked to the monitor.
Pilar turned toward the men. “I need to report back to my superiors. But you’ll be hearing back from me shortly. Both of you.” Said Pilar, making for the door.
“We have a lot to talk about.” Said Jessup. “Like why is Chuck dead and where the hell is V’rom Allison?”
She smiled as she left the room, calling from the passage, “Go save your sister, Halliday.”
Jessup looked at Boyko and back at the empty doorway.
“Yeah, I gotta go.” Jessup left the room and headed for the loading dock exit near the landing pad.
A moment later Pilar popped back into the doorway, looking at the Sheriff. “Vlad! I almost forgot!”
“Yes ... uhm, Connie?”
“I need one more thing from you, if you wouldn’t mind.”
The airlock of the bike opened and Pilar entered the teardrop-shaped cabin. Instead of getting into the driver’s seat she went to the rear of the bike and slid open a storage shelf. She pulled from it a meter-long cylindrical canister. She opened it and saw the black triangular face and blazing blue eyes of a Siamese cat staring at her. It uttered one subtle ‘meow, in welcome.
She pulled a plastic container from her pouch and opened it. The smell of lamb and warm bread immediately infused the tiny cabin.
“Do I have a treat for us, Mr. Toots.”