Newly commissioned Tanya Jones of the Mars Police is woken early with a report of a mining accident in an outlying crater. The accident is not as straightforward as at first it seems. Tanya actually knows one of the victims and is reluctant to accept human failure as the cause. With her suspicions aroused Tanya begins digging, a job she is very good at albeit in a different sphere. Slowly she must drag the truth from the most elusive clues and in doing so will have to expose not only international espionage, diamond smuggling and drug running but serve justice on these crimes and that of murder.
So says, in fewer words, the cover or synopsis. I hope that my details in book one of the trilogy suffice as I deliberately gloss over the minutiae in this and subsequent stories. I see this again and again that a good proportion of follow on novels have repeat lines or sections and I consider this unnecessary and a bit patronizing if the reader (you) has already taken in the first episode.
This is a story of ostensibly an industrial incident, albeit in a ‘strange to us’ location. It is a fact that these sort of things will happen as we go out into the solar system and beyond. The question of it really being an accident or a deliberate act and if so why and who might have instigated such an action. If it was deliberate, what or who were the targets?
The first thing any investigator needs to establish are the facts. In the words of Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes “once the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.”
For Tanya Jones, the improbable proves very hard to prove.
Day Zero. Thu-18D
The day was never going to be just like any other. It started as it meant to go on, the chirp of her cell-phone waking Tanya Jones from a deep and untroubled sleep at an ungodly hour.
Fumbling in a fog of torpor, she rifled through her few personal items on the tiny shelf that ran down the side of her sleeping cubicle and in doing so knocked the TV monitor, which promptly sprung to life. The iridescent glow blinded her to all but the digital clock that her fuddled thinking said 03:04. She finally found the phone sender node and merely touching it transformed her implant into wake mode and it spoke softly into her ear. -Call from Harry Broadbent.
“Connect.” She said sleepily, and instantly the call was patched through.
She heard the device use an autonomic recording of her voice to say. “Hello Harry.” It was way too bright, calm and uncluttered for this time of the morning.
“Good Morning Tanya.” Harry’s voice came back. That he too had been woken early was evident. “Is that you? God but you sound like you’ve been waiting for this. I suppose it’s a recording, in which case, sorry to wake you but we have an incident over on the Black Ridge site.”
Tanya had grown up with her pa being woken by such a call and hot footing it out of the door. She had gotten to wake and have coffee made before he left the house. It had surprised him the first time, to find that his seven year old daughter had not only prepared for the eventuality but was up and about with hot coffee in a to-go cup. Once was kinda cute, but every time thereafter? It became embarrassing, causing friction between her and her Mom who had a daytime job and didn’t get up. The friction dissolved over time as it became routine right through when she went to college. They tried moving her room so the phone didn’t wake her, it didn’t work. No matter the time, Tanya was waiting in her PJs and night jacket, coffee ready as her pa came down the stairs.
Police business was police business be it here or for her pa in Pittsburgh.
Coming rapidly to, she asked, “What time is it?”
“3am.” Harry answered. “Just after.”
Tanya knew better than to ask what couldn’t wait a few hours. “OK, that’s what I read. Missed Feng-Shui by a long shot then.” Tanya had hitched a lift out to the outlying sites a number of times with the Asian night food box delivery driver who had the unlikely name of Fung Chou. Mispronunciation and Anglicization had handled him forever as Feng-Shui, and he usually started his run around mid-night. “You got a rover I can use?” She queried.
“I’ll get with George and come back to you.”
“OK, I’ll be at the dock in say, thirty-five minutes.”
“You don’t want to know what it is?”
“Go ahead, but you don’t call at three in the morning and think I’m not hauling ass do you?”
“Nicely put. Be ready with all you’ve got. Very nasty incident, machines running amuck, two fatalities.”
“Shit lootenant.” She breathed. “Better get some two tones on the rover.”
Despite the hour, Harry laughed. Not a barrel laugh, more an amused rumble, but laughter nevertheless. “Talk soon.” He signed off.
Now was the time to consider what could be done in thirty minutes. A shower was out of the question. A basin and washrag clean up was not. Tanya disgorged herself from the bunk, stripped and ran a basin of hot water. Thank god for Robbie McIntyre she thought every time she used this little facility.
Robbie was the base sky traffic controller and plumber. With what he referred to as the ‘silly season’ completed for another cycle Robbie had reverted to his primary role as pipework technician and that covered everything that used pipes, from gas, through hydraulics to water. At Tanya’s enquiry he had acceded to fitting a personal use washbowl in her cubicle. “I don’t need a shower every time my face and hands get dirty.” She had told him.
“No a bother.” He had told her. “The water pipes run right there. Couple of tees, no one will be the wiser.”
He had come back two days later with a problem.
“Canna get into your cubicle.” He said. “Never a problem before, but someone’s changed the protocols on yours. Probably something to do wi’ you bein’ a girl.”
She gave him her access card and within two hours he handed it back.
“I’ve no cloned the card.” He told her, but I had some good offers.” The smile spread side to side.
Tanya laughed back. “50% cut?” she joked.
“Dinner?” He enquired. “My pleasure, your treat.”
“Done.” She answered. “This time.” No time to ponder on that now as she dried off on a rare towel.
Coffee now would be good and bad, good to help her get going, bad because unfailingly a half hour after drinking the stuff, she needed to pee. No way that was going to happen when she was suited up.
If she stopped to think about it, and again now was not one of those times, but she could fully suit up from nothing in less than fifteen minutes these days where it had taken near an hour when first introduced to the suit some six months ago. That had been a lifetime ago on a different world, literally.
It had been an unbelievable roller coaster ride, in her former role with the United Nations Investigation Committee on Human Rights Abuse Tanya had considered herself a seasoned traveller. This assignment, dropped on her with virtually no notice made her previous experience pale into insignificance. The journey first to the moon and then onto Mars covered more miles than even as a United Airlines platinum cardholder, she had done in her entire lifetime. Tanya had been used to getting two-bit assignments in remote places and she saw an investigation into complaints over living conditions and contracts as hardly amounting to human rights abuse, but as usual she had been persuaded to take it. That investigation had taken an unexpected turn when on the moon Trishala Parkar, the security division chaperone assigned her, had told Tanya she had a mere two months to complete her investigation or she would be stuck on Mars for two years. With the body of her enquiries completed Tanya could look forward to a return to earth and a promised promotion. And then, five months ago the news that the craft scheduled to carry her back to the world had a technical fault. Like it or not, Tanya would be staying on Mars. Topping all that for the most astounding turn of events was that Trisha Parkar had failed to catch the last return flight to Mars and in her absence Harry Broadbent, who was Mr. Mars, had gotten Tanya to stand in. Formerly a mere UNICHRA Investigation Agent, Tanya Jones now wore the exalted mantle of Police and Security Commission holder for Mars.
Hardly a day had gone since her arrival that she had not had to suit up so at least she was well practiced in the process, and washed, suited and moved, she was at the dock in the projected thirty-five minutes.
True to form, Harry had come up trumps.
A young guy with tired eyes and five o’clock stubble was waiting for her. Above the left breast of his dark gray two-piece trade suit was embroidered the Off World Exploitation logo. On the right pocket a patch declaring his name as Jenkins lay below a stylized ‘EZR’ logo.
“Hi Commissioner.” He greeted her. “I got the call and have been waiting for your arrival.” He produced a tablet as if this were an auto rental company. “I got just the thing for you, a closed back rover number double-oh seven is ready and waiting.” His accent was difficult for her to pin down. New England, maybe Canadian. “If you would sign here.” He presented the tablet, face first. “Miss Bond.” He muttered, the smirk barely concealed.
Caught between the desire to slap him, and just taking the vehicle, she chose the latter course.
“When was the last time this machine got checked out completely?” She asked.
“Full check yesterday, pre use not five minutes ago Commissioner.” He responded, all trace of mirth gone. “I was told it was for you and have taken the precaution of putting in three extra air boxes. I hope that’s what you would want.”
“That’s good.” She responded, thinking he was a lying sack. There was no way he had been outside and then de-suited in the time she had taken to get there. “Did you go so far as to check the seals on those?” She asked pointedly.
“They’re good.” He said. “We take pride in giving the best service level with our cars. Even at short notice, we check that everything is as it should be.”
“Hold on.” She said, making a connection between the word ‘cars’, the EZR logo on his jacket and the rental header on the tablet. “Isn’t this an OWE machine?”
He vacillated. “Arguably.”
“What do you mean, ‘Arguably’?”
“Well OWE are the primary user, but we own and service all the rovers and trucks as part of our fleet.”
“And us is?”
“Easy Rent, EZR for short. He used the North American zee as pronunciation for the Z. We’re a subcontractor to base services.”
“Jesus, talk about wheel within wheels.” Tanya said, thinking that every day brought up a new twist, a new potential complication.”
“That’s how this whole thing is.” He responded. “I was talking to Larry in Bio the other day…”
“Can I come back to that?” Tanya said, returning herself forcibly to the present. “I have an incident I need to attend.”
“Sound like you should have blues and twos.” He returned.
“Not sure how the twos would work here, but the blues would be fun.”
“I’ll look into it.” He said, his tone completely serious.
“For now, the rover?” She interjected.
“Do I need to come and do the walk-round with you?” He asked, handing her a key fob.
“I guess not.” She answered. “If there’s a problem then I’ll be back.”
“You just insert the fob into the activate slot and press the start button.” He told her as she headed for the air lock.”
“Got it.” She answered.
Of course there was a problem, a few of them in fact. She had been in plenty of these machines before, both on the moon and here on Mars, but never actually driven one of them let alone driven it in the dark to the Black Ridge site. Tanya was not going to admit anything to anyone but Harry, and probably not to him unless she had to.
The air lock here consisted two single person sized vacuum chambers. Each was a really tight squeeze for a large person and Tanya was for once thankful for her small female form. Even so, she could not stand upright in the tiny cubicle. Stepping in sideways she tucked her bag behind her feet and slid the inner seal closed. Before hitting the red evacuation button she fired up the first of the three cans she had picked up herself. Isolated in her suit from external influence she could not hear the vacuum pump but could feel both the vibration through the walls and her suit tension as the exterior pressure dropped.
Exiting the chamber into the near zero atmosphere, she strode confidently across the nearly full vehicle park and quickly identified 007 as one of only a handful of the sixty or so vehicles on the lot that wasn’t an open back truck. A brief walk round confirmed that the machine appeared to be undamaged and had all the parts she expected to see. This was not a walk-round like you did on the airport rental lot. She had seen other people do this check and learned that unfailingly they were thorough. Anything wrong here and you could easily wind up dead. The exterior completed, Tanya entered through the rear access door. Just like the rovers on the moon and that which Feng-Shui drove, this one had double lengthways bench seats in back. Slipping into the left hand front seat she inserted the fob and watched the instruments come to life. A lesson from watching Trisha; flick the drive control to her side, one from Feng-Shui; life support level cross check, from Constable Rivers; how to get a real status reading from the fuel cell, and so it went on. Communications good, transponder on, gyro compass stable, GPS log input, odometer to zero, initiate start. Power level rises, all displays normal, good to go.
So engrossed was she in the mundanity of safety checking, that this was the first time she was alone on the surface of an alien planet simply did not hit home.
Some ten kilometers out, and this was the factor that brought her to reality, how the frick far was ten kilometers? She was an American and understood miles, even in Africa they had talked miles. It dawned upon her psyche that she had no business being out here. To tap in a GPS search for a location when there was no GPS, merely a gyro compass as a real compass would not work here, and then follow tire tracks wasn’t the best plan of action.
Best plan or not, it led her unerringly to Black Ridge. Perhaps she had been paying more attention when Feng-Shui had been driving than she had previously thought.
As she approached the site Tanya switched channels from emergency 99 to local traffic 55 and radioed in for updates. There was no delay or hesitancy in the response. “Go straight to the dig site.” The operator told her. “Do you know where it is?” A voice she did not recall asked.
“Which one?” She returned, both indicating to the communications officer that she knew her way and that there were multiple sites.
“Number 2 pit.” Came the response. “Glad some authority is here so quick, sounds like a regular cluster.”