An Unusual Profession

 

 

The back cover notes give a good start;

 

Tanya Jones truly has an unusual profession. A seasoned traveller, working for UNICHRA, (The United Nations Investigations Committee on Human Rights Abuse) she has travelled the world checking out claims and accusations from indentured slavery through discrimination to murder and prosecuting where these claims have been proven. She has just received the most exotic assignment ever.

To Governments who have spent decades and fortunes in space exploration, having private enterprise leading the space race by leaps and bounds wasn’t funny. A one-off chance to get someone inside the organization and obtain access to getting close to the matchless and secret unique technology for themselves was an opportunity the United States saw as too good to miss.

The job Tanya has been assigned to in Venezuela has been set aside and Tanya is told at three days notice she’s to spend three months in space. In the investigation Tanya must complete she will face prejudice and deceit and as she is pulled in deeper will need to examine both her and her employer’s motives and be forced to choose sides.

 

 

 

An Unusual Profession:

 

In the opening chapters maybe I put more detail than is actually needed but I wanted to create a believable environment readers could, find themselves comfortable with as the story progresses. The reality is that sooner or later going into space will become as routine as catching a jet to New York is now. The theme of the story is that just as now commercial airlines carry people and freight across the world so in the future they will carry people and freight to the moon and beyond.

I could have set the story in the wild west for the theme is also about the reaches of law. The difference is that in the west the law was there albeit not enforced.  In space there is actually no law as regards people.

The concept of extending maritime law is a fallacy as of 2017 even the United States has not even signed up to the international law of the sea. So what will happen if a Chinese national inadvertently or deliberately causes harm to an American while on the lunar surface? You could argue that the same dilemma faces us if two people standed at sea on a raft come to blows. Who then is the prosecuting authority?

The Outer space treaty of 1967 says: “All space exploration will be done with good intentions and is equally open to all States that comply with international law. No one nation may claim ownership of outer space or any celestial body.”

 

From Wikipedia we can look up space Law:

 

Space Law

  • The 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the "Outer Space Treaty").
  • The 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the "Rescue Agreement").
  • The 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (the "Liability Convention").
  • The 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the "Registration Convention").
  • The 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the "Moon Treaty").
  • The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Uses of Outer Space (1963)

All space exploration will be done with good intentions and is equally open to all States that comply with international law. No one nation may claim ownership of outer space or any celestial body. Activities carried out in space must abide by the international law and the nations undergoing these said activities must accept responsibility for the governmental or non-governmental agency involved. Objects launched into space are subject to their nation of belonging, including people. Objects, parts, and components discovered outside the jurisdiction of a nation will be returned upon identification. If a nation launches an object into space, they are responsible for any damages that occur internationally.

  • Principles Relevant to the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space (1992)

"States launching space objects with nuclear power sources on board shall endeavor to protect individuals, populations and the biosphere against radiological hazards. The design and use of space objects with nuclear power sources on board shall ensure, with a high degree of confidence, that the hazards, in foreseeable operational or accidental circumstances, are kept below acceptable levels..."

  • The Declaration on International Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for the Benefit and in the Interest of All States, (1996)

"States are free to determine all aspects of their participation in international cooperation in the exploration and use of outer space on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis. All States, particularly those with relevant space capabilities and with programs for the exploration and use of outer space, should contribute to promoting and fostering international cooperation on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis. In this context, particular attention should be given to the benefit for and the interests of developing countries and countries with incipient space programs stemming from such international cooperation conducted with countries with more advanced space capabilities. International cooperation should be conducted in the modes that are considered most effective and appropriate by the countries concerned, including, inter alia, governmental and non-governmental; commercial and non-commercial; global, multilateral, regional or bilateral; and international cooperation among countries in all levels of development."

 

The advent of commercial space activities beyond the scope of the satellite communications industry, and the development of many commercial spaceports, is leading many countries to consider how to regulate private space activities. The challenge is to regulate these activities in a manner that does not hinder or preclude investment, while still ensuring that commercial activities comply with international law. The developing nations are concerned that the spacefaring nations will monopolize space resources. However this may be resolved by simply extending the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to outer space.

In May 2015, the United States Congress passed the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015.

 

Note well:

  • The United States has of 2017 NOT ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • No nation other than the United States has ratified the Space Resource Exploration Act.
  • The moon treaty has only 13 parties however, and many consider it to be a failed treaty due to its limited acceptance.
  • The outer space treaty is the most widely adopted treaty, with 103 parties.
  • The rescue agreement, the liability convention and the registration convention, all elaborate on provisions of the outer space treaty. UN delegates apparently intended that the moon treaty serve as a new comprehensive treaty which would supersede or supplement the outer space treaty, most notably by elaborating upon the outer space treaty's provisions regarding resource appropriation and prohibition of territorial sovereignty. India is the only nation that has both signed the moon treaty and declared itself interested in going to the moon.

So here's the first chapter just as a taster:

 

 

Stage One.

September 15th. Day one.

 

Stepping out of the elevator at the sixth floor of a large multi organization office complex, she was, exactly as had been briefed, confronted by the large stylized logo of Randal and Piercy Consultants Inc. etched into a glass panel fronting the suite that occupied the entire floor. The office had all the right looks to it, modern and bright with smartly dressed energetic young people and that air of activity and controlled excitement. 

Tanya approached the large mahogany veneered, curved front desk and introduced herself to the perfectly groomed slim blonde sat behind it. The girl wished Tanya a good morning and asked for her card. Tanya was momentarily at a disadvantage, unsure whether to produce her own business card or that given to her with this address on it.  She decided that handing over both and permitting the girl to choose which she wanted would work best. Tanya produced one of her somewhat dog-eared UNICHRA cards and the even more crumpled and dirty UCC address card she had been given. What Jim Scott had done to leave it in such bad condition didn’t warrant thinking about.

 

The bubbly receptionist took both, touching the UCC card as if it were diseased, but flipping it over to check that nothing was on the reverse. She read Tanya’s UNICHRA card, frowned and filed it, then asked if Tanya was looking to fly, or for work.

“To fly?” Tanya queried the terminology. “I guess, if that’s what you call it, then yes I am looking to fly.”

The girl welcomed Tanya to the program and advised her that a few details would be needed, then politely but firmly directed her past the potted plants to a side room where a gray haired guy with glasses and outfitted in a security guard uniform asked her the same question, “Flying or working?” Tanya answered as before and the guy handed her a sheaf of forms and a clipboard and asked, once again very politely, if she could take the time to fill them in.  

Two other guys, one in shirtsleeves and tie, his heavy winter coat thrown over the seat back, the other incongruously for the weather, in jeans and sweatshirt, were arranged on the armless couch type seating and engrossed in completing their own forms. The brief had said this is what she should expect, but it still baffled her as she had already supplied all the details she could conceive they could want in the on-line questionnaire.

Two minutes of reading the form content confirmed her suspicion that all this would be duplication. Tanya brought her enquiry as to the relevance of the forms to the security guy. His ‘matter of fact’ response was to tell her that was the way it was. Fill in the forms or walk away.

“But I already answered all this on-line.” She told him.

“You did?” He questioned. “Did you get a reference number for that?”

“Sure.” Tanya answered and dug out her printed receipt.

The guard took a look at it, hummed and hawed then took it to the blonde on the desk. Tanya followed a pace behind.

The girl took a look at the paperwork and pulled the card Tanya had presented from a stack. Her face had that ‘this doesn’t add up’ look. She tapped numbers into her keypad and did that secretary thing where they type so fast you have no idea what they are inputting. 

“Hmm.” She said, then expounded. “I’m sorry Miss Jones, but it seems you have come to the wrong place.”

“But,” Tanya responded, “this is the address I was given.”

“Sorry,” the girl repeated. “I guess you were given the wrong card. You should go back to the PO box as your instruction sheet tells you.”

“But,” Tanya said again, “I’ve come a long way. I had a colleague come and check before I travelled. He gave me the card and told me you were good.”

“That would explain it.” The girl told her. “I’m afraid your colleague has been misdirected. Don’t worry, it happens.”

Tanya was confused. These sorts of things happened in the third world, not here in Canada of all places. “I don’t get it.” She said. “My friend got a card with this address on it, he came here and filled in a bunch of forms and was told he would get an e-mail which, by the way, he’s still waiting for.”

“Ah.” The girl said, glancing toward the side room as if to see no-one there was listening. “Not so loud please.” Leaning forward conspiratorially she continued. “We are contracted to act as a clearing house for unsolicited and face to face enquiries. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone like you who is genuine, any real potential client or future UCC employee. It’s just that we get quite a lot of people come in here who are shall we say, ‘inadequate’ either in means or qualities, and sometimes it takes a while to get into processing the genuine enquiries.”

“So the Randal and Piercy Consultants thing is a front? It’s not a Financial Business you’re running at all.” Tanya queried.

“Oh no!” The blonde responded. “RPC is a very respected consultancy concern in both the worlds of employment and investment. We deal a lot with UCC and their derivatives both as financiers and as vetting agents and that includes employment profiling. They just asked us to do this extra for them.”

“So,” Tanya asked. “If this is not the right place, where is it?”

“It tells you on your information sheet.”

“But my colleague already went there and this is where he was directed.”

“Colleague? You said friend just now.”

“Turn of phrase.” Tanya told her.

“Whatever, I guess your ‘colleague’ didn’t give the guys at the other office your reference number, so I suggest you go back there and try again.”

“Can’t you just tell me the right place to go now?” Tanya queried.

“Sorry.” The girl responded. “The reality is we just don’t get that information. You have to go and pick up your own dispatch card from the drop.”

“Jesus!” Tanya expleted. “What kind of organization is this?”

The girl shrugged. “Sorry.” She said again. “I can’t tell you more than I know.”

“Well can you at least tell me where this place.” Tanya wielded the info sheet with the contact address on it, “Is?”  The mailing address on the info sheet was to a post office box.  

“Take a taxi.’’ The girl advised. “That’s at least a dozen blocks.”

The zip code, no this was Canada, postal code, led her taxi to drop her at a downtown sub post office. Once inside the building, the box wasn’t difficult to find and a label on it directed enquirers to a clerk. There was, of course, a queue and despite her growing concern at the increasing oddity of the situation, she waited patiently for her turn at counter five.  Once at the front, she presented her printed instruction page and passport and passed them under the glass screen. The clerk, having seen and checked her ID against a list he had tucked under his counter, simply handed over a business card. On one side was the stellar helix logo and UCC acronym, the name ‘Ms. Tanya Jones’ and the number VC357. On the other side was what looked like a postcode and telephone number. At least it was different to the card she had before.

“This it?” She asked. The clerk raised an eyebrow. Tanya enquired as to if there were directions but the clerk merely pointed to the local information stand and map located on the wall behind her. He had been the picture of Canadian hospitality until that point. "With all respect ma'am, you are talking to a Post Office clerk, not a tour guide."

The map was large enough, and even though in the index she found the code area, on the map it wasn’t clear where she would be going, as there was more than one street in the postal zone. What was clear however was that it was not in walking distance and there would have had to be two changes in the bus routes. It wasn't going to be easy. Down the edge of the map were the usual advertisements, see this sight, visit this shop, use this cab company. The telephone number matched that on the card.

She called the number.

 

Almost as if he knew who she was, the Taxi driver pulled up so close she only had to reach forward to open his rear door. “McDunbar?” She asked. 

“That’s me, ma’am.” The driver replied over his shoulder.

“You take US?” She enquired further as she squirmed into the seat. “I’ve only got around thirty Dollars Canadian in cash left.”

“Gonna be fourteen bucks, so you’re fine.” He said, not looking back. “But I’ll take a card if you prefer.”

“That’s good. I’ll give you cash if that’s OK.”

He checked the rear-view mirror to look her in the eyes. “Works for me.”

“Can I get a check for this?” She asked.

“Sure.” 

“With tax and gratuity?” She enquired further.

“Tax is included here.” He replied. “VAT number is on the bottom. I can add the gratuity if you want.”

Settled into the back seat and two city-blocks behind her, she enquired of the driver if the blustery weather was normal.  

“No.” He replied. “It’s usually wetter than this.”

“Are you serious?” She queried in a tone that belied the question.

“No ma’am, but most visitors have this idea that Canada is snowed in all year. Here in Vancouver, it’s actually quite mild and dry and we even get a summer. You just missed it, it was last month.”

At a loss as to if he were joking or not, she let the conversation go.

Not for the first time in the week since she had been tasked, Tanya Jones thought to herself that this must be the dumbest assignment she had ever taken and, that if anything she had encountered to this point was an indicator, was going to be the most trying in her career.

 

Dropped off right outside the address there was no sign or advertisement to mark the location. The cab had turned into McDunbar Street and the number 5037 on the front of the building was all there was as an identifier. 

Not for the first time that day, or in fact over the previous week, she questioned what confronted her. “You sure this is it?” She asked the driver as she handed a crisp Canadian twenty-dollar bill forward between the seats.

“I’m sure.” He said as he sorted change. “Come here a lot.”

“I was expecting something more.”

“People do, but this is it. Honest.” He turned to hand her Canadian dollar coins. She declined them, insisting he should take a tip.

There were two reasons behind her action, first was the dollar coin aversion, especially when they were foreign. Secondly, a good tip might bring a speedier return if this all went wrong. He in turn handed her a business card with the fare pre-printed on the back. A space had been left for gratuity value with the wording “paid with thanks”. 

 

Tanya climbed from the car to face an unusual property. At one time this had been a professional building, housing maybe a dental or real estate practice and had the hallmarks of being a converted residence, albeit a large one.  The buff colored two-story building would not have been remarkable were it elsewhere, the neo sixties design unexceptional for its location in a suburban neighborhood of Vancouver. The sign that marked it out to the street now stood blank, the name of the previous occupants barely legible through the reversed plastic. Typical for Canada, a plethora of verdant shrubbery fronted the dark glass entrance area which was backed by a split-level construction, the red Italian style tiled roof sloping all the way back to the 2ndfloor apex. To the right of the building the windows of the lower level of the rear portion were at almost ground height, behind the bars guarding them against damage, they too had one-way dark glass and it was impossible to see what lay behind them. Part way back an eight foot concrete slab wall blocked off access to the rear and separated the grounds from the parking lot of a row of three small shops, the nearest one being a local realtors, next to it a Laundromat and finally a seven-eleven style general provisions outlet. To the left of the building ran a tarmac driveway separated from the side street by a pair of trees in a row of chest high shrubbery. The driveway ended halfway along the building with a set of strong gates closing off a covered parking lot that was isolated from the street by another high concrete slab wall. 

 

The extreme rear of the property backed onto the gardens of a more conventional wooden siding domestic property, from the front yard of which Tanya could see greenery hanging over top of the high concrete wall, which was itself decorated to resemble a stone slabbed castle wall. Unwilling to further presume the validity of the building Tanya returned to the front and entering past the potted geraniums through the front door, could have easily been going into a dental or doctor surgery. It was that normal. The expanse of glass and the high ceiling gave the already large room an airiness that was beautifully countered by the polished wood paneling that adorned every non-glazed wall. To one side of this atrium sat a pair of opposing pale grey leather love seats together with a magazine strewn coffee table. To the other side of the room was a polished antique reception desk, to those that appreciate such things, recognizably pre-revolutionary French. Behind this magnificent piece of furniture, incongruously topped by a large flat screen computer monitor, sat a large, middle aged, stern faced, bespectacled woman who was patiently dealing with an intransigent and irate guy who stood tall over her. Tanya took a seat to wait.  

 

The receptionist was polite but firm, telling the man that this was not a ticket-office, and there was no option but to make an application on-line.  

The guy’s clothes looked of bespoke design and he was clearly used to getting his own way. “I’ve seen the web-site and come over here to give you my documents. I even brought my cheque book.”

The receptionist nearly choked. “Cheque book? Really?” Getting a grip she continued, “I’m sorry sir, nobody takes cheques these days. I can’t remember the last time I saw one even.”

“I do have cards.” He offered. “And can arrange a draft in moments.”

“But Sir, I have already taken your name and mail address, and without a reference number, which you would have gotten on-line, I can’t take money or documents. There are legal implications to the handling of personal detail.”

“Is there nothing done personally any more? Do you know who I am?”

“I am sorry sir,” The receptionist continued finding her form, “this is not a bus depot and if you haven't already registered and filled in the preliminary questionnaire on-line,” She emphasized the phrase, “It doesn't matter who you are.”

“Damn you!” He spluttered. “I'm telling you.”

“And I'm telling you, Sir.” A door had opened and a uniformed security guard spoke from it as he entered the room.

The guy lunged of a sudden at the door, but it closed behind the guard with a click.

“It wouldn't have done you any good.” He said to the guy. “It's an airlock. Nobody gets through that shouldn't.”

“Damn you.” The guy shouted. “What's so damn secret behind there?”

“There are no crazies?” The guard postulated, then continued. “Gonna have to escort you off the premises Sir, either you go quiet or I call the cops.”

“Call them!  I got rights!”

“Yeah, but one of them ain't free access to private property.”

“But!” The guy spluttered. 

“No buts, Sir.” The guard retorted. “Do as the lady says, please. Register and fill out the questions on-line, then come back when you have a reference number.”

“The guy didn't like it, but complaining loudly all the way to the door, left the building with the security guard close behind.

 

In the ensuing silence, the woman finished what she was typing and pointedly looked over to where Tanya sat.

“Do you get many people like that?” Tanya asked.

“From time to time.” The receptionist answered, “Mostly press.”

“Oh.”

“They're the loudest complainers about 'the right for information.' I just tell them to read the web site.”

“How’d they, come to that how’d he find this place. You guys don’t make it easy you know.”

“That’s kind of deliberate. Can you imagine how it would be if you had a half kilometer queue to get in here?”

“Right..” The delayed inflective clearly indicating mixed concepts. “So how..?”

“Anyone who has been here before, worked in the building etc.”

“And there are a lot?” 

“Quite a few, but now Miss Jones, I need to check you in.”

“You know who I am?” She queried, a smile forming at the corners of her mouth.

“Absolutely, I got your file yesterday. Unlike the gentleman there, I know what you look like and whom I'm expecting. Just need some assurance on that."

Tanya produced her Passport detailing her name as Tanya Miriam Jones of Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. With it was her birth certificate detailing her parents as Robert and Eva Jones (neé Salter) of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, both US citizens at birth. An original copy of her medical records, an attestation of employment from her current boss and the signed release of information form followed onto the desk. "Do you need anything else?" She asked.

“No.” The receptionist replied. “In terms of original documents you were advised on-line, what to bring.”

Miss Tanya Jones did not miss the irony.

“Middle name Miriam. Are you Jewish?”

“What's that got to do with you?”

“It's a pertinent question. On your return you put 'no religion'. Is your family Jewish?”

“No.”

“OK, and this may be none of my business,” the receptionist said as she typed in the relevant data. “But how did you get in?”

“Meaning?”

“You're American.”

“And”

“Unusual given the circumstances.”

“It's only just across the border from here. You didn't know?”

The receptionist looked at her disdainfully. 

Tapping a key, she spoke to the screen in front of her. “Henry?” 

A voice answered from the speaker, with the screen facing away from her Miss Tanya Jones could not see if a face matched it. “Go ahead.” Tanya noted the crisp English accent.

I've got Miss Jones ready to come through.  Might as well see her I guess, although with her attitude I'm not sure if she'll even make the program.”

“Hah!” The voice laughed. “This is the UN observer, right?”

“Let me check.” She answered. The woman shuffled paper and scrolled her screen. Her eyebrows raised on finding the relevant data. She clicked the communicator again and spoke to the screen. “I suppose so. It says UNICHRA here, though I’m not familiar with that acronym.”

“United Nations Investigation Committee on Human Rights Abuse.” Tanya told her. “One of the smaller sections, thank goodness.”

“Jolly good.” The voice called Henry responded. “That’s her. Just give me five minutes and then send her through.” 

Tanya had come across this sort of thing before, where a burocrat cleaned their desk before letting her in. She leaned toward the device. “What’s the problem?” She asked loudly. “I’m beginning to think there is actually something you have got to hide. Is this true?” There was no response.

The receptionist took a long hard look at her then diverted her attention back to putting all the paperwork into a clear plastic zip-top folder.

 

“Well?” Tanya asked.

Looking her square in the eyes, the receptionist said. “Since you ask so politely, we have a process known as Corporate Security. It is perfectly legal and reasonable. You need to know that you are here under sufferance. You want to make the flight, you had better start remembering where you are.”

“You people,” Tanya responded in her best authoritarian voice, “are not above the law. I am going to Mars and that's an end to it.”

“And you Miss Jones had better remember that the only way you or anyone is getting there is with Sky-lynx. You don't make the program you don't go. The most likely fail point is attitude, and you've got plenty.”

“Jesus!” Tanya expleted. “And you think you haven't?”

“I am trying to be helpful. The company doesn't care who you are. You make the grade or you don't go. Being UN or American doesn't help you one bit. Both are negative attributes. I'm just telling you, keep that attitude and you won't get further than the other side of that door.”

“You got something against Americans?”

“Me? No, my uncle is American. But the company has issues. Think about it. We fly from here to the moon five times a month, same from Perth, eighteen seats each flight. We've been doing this now for nine years and in regular service for five. Of the around twelve thousand seats going up, other than the tourists and breather technicians so far twenty seven Americans have got through that door. Twenty four have made it onto a moon-base, three to Mars. Now I call that slim odds.”

“I didn't realize it was that bad.”

“Not your fault of course, all to do with your government. But even so, I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself and your mouth shut as much as possible.”

The screen beeped.

“Laura?”

“Yes?” The receptionist answered it.

“Lunch break over, you can send Miss Jones through if she's ready.”

“That was quick Henry.” Laura responded.

“Gulped down an energy bar, can’t keep the UN waiting can we?”

Laura did a “Hmm.” Noise.“Coming now.” She said and stood, indicating that Tanya should follow her. They walked to the internal door where Laura tapped a button pad.  A buzzer sounded and Laura pulled the door open. She did not enter, but instead ushered Tanya inside. The door shut behind her locking her into a small cubicle. A very small cubicle, no more than four feet square with the ceiling at the same height as the doorsill. The exit door failed to open.

Tanya began to wonder if she was supposed to do something to make it happen. There were no pads, buttons, handles, push plates, or in fact anything. The walls were uniform matt aluminum; all were recessed at the bottom and flush paneled into corner posts. She turned to check, and even the door she had just come through matched the other walls. Disconcerting was not the word. 

Mild panic came over her for a moment but she controlled it. Almost as she got it together, the door opened. A tall guy in shirtsleeves and necktie held the door. He looked her up and down, nodded to himself and held out his hand. “Henry Danvers.” He introduced himself and invited her through.“Test one.” He said as he led her down some steps to their right, through a door into an artificially lit buff painted corridor and then into a small side room laid out like a medical examination room. “Ever done any space training before?” Henry asked, leafing through a file as he leaned against the door surround.

“No.” She replied.

“Police, military, intelligence services?”

“You have my file.” She answered. “I've done nothing like that.”

“Psychology?” He queried as he indicated she should sit. 

She looked at him, unsure of his meaning.

“Ever studied psychology, human behavior, call it what you will?”

“No, well not officially. Not more than any other person does in everyday life and I’ve not been on any specific courses if that’s what you mean.” She told him. “But in my line of work, and I’m an investigator, you get to know when someone is lying or concealing something. There are lots of questions like that on the application form. Is it that important.”

“Could be.” He responded, as he drew up a machine, remarkably similar to those you see in an eye care outlet. “OK, I am going to do a retinal scan.” He said. “Place your chin just here please.”

“And this is?” She queried.

“Standard practice.” He answered. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“I already had my eyes tested.” She came back.

“This is not a test. It's a security scan. When I'm done with this I will take your fingerprints, a blood sample and DNA. Then we will go through a full medical check.”

“I don't get it.” Tanya said. “I had to do all this stuff once already.”

“Verification. You wouldn't believe how many people fake it to try and get in.”

 

When he said there would be a medical check, he was not joking. If there was a more thorough or intrusive examination she could not imagine it. At the request, she had stripped to her underwear and donned a hospital gown.

“We're not keen on introducing disease up there or dealing with avoidable medical emergencies.” Henry responded to her second enquiry as to why the re-testing.

“You came back from Western Africa very recently and although the blood work data we have been provided tends to indicate you are not carrying any of the thousand or so virulent diseases that are prevalent in that region, we will have to do further screening.”

Through a number of tests, he took over a pint of her blood, leaving her feeling very washed out. Tanya had to produce a urine sample with the demand for a stool sample (and within a 24 hour period you'd better produce one). There were skin swabs, hair and saliva samples, and when Henry told her he needed samples from her private parts, “This is too far.” She told Him. 

“I'm a doctor.” He said. “You'll know and we'll know there's nothing to worry about. This is normal for anyone going off world. All our people get checked every six months.” 

“Why?” Tanya enquired, her belligerent side taking over, “It's intrusive and undignified.”

“Two things.” Henry responded. “First is despite our best efforts, among other diseases STD’s are rife on the moon. It costs us a small fortune in drugs to combat the myriad of varieties. So far there are no reported STD cases on Mars. I have no idea what you might get up to in your time there and I have no intention of letting an epidemic loose for the want of checking first here. Secondly, on the subject of finance, have you any idea how much it’s going to cost to get you to Mars?”

“No, I didn’t get to see the bill, but what..”

“Maybe you wouldn’t have as your people are not paying. As I understand it, against their best instinct, UCC are covering the cost of this to demonstrate to the UN that we have nothing to hide. It’s going to set us back around two million of your dollars to get you there and back and the company cannot and will not spend that kind of money on people who are going to get sick or die, or even worse to import a transmittable disease to the population. There's enough of that happens without knowingly bringing in more problems.”

“But goddamit, people have rights!” 

“Yes and no.”

“What do you mean, no?!”

“Ahh.” He said “Rights are a relative issue. John Company has rights too.”

“Christ, but that’s the attitude that has got me here. No mere 'Company' can dictate over human rights!”

“Even the right to employ or not employ an individual?”

“Not on this basis. You ask if there's a medical problem, not do an intrusive check.”

“I disagree. This is a quite abnormal situation and pressures to obtain clearance for flight are literally astronomical.  Individual people and in some cases, their masters will stop at nothing to be accepted to the program. Lying is the least of it.”

“Are you accusing me of lying?”
“An interesting reaction.” He noted, and continued. “Not a bit of it. We do not discriminate. The Company merely gives everyone the chance to tell the truth in the first instance.” 

“But you still do the checks.”

“Absolutely.”

“But you don’t have the right to do that.”

“Why not. It’s not an unreasonable requirement given the circumstances.”

“There’s a difference between a requirement and a demand.”

“So we demand it.”

“You have no right to demand this level of intrusion.”

“Why not? Nations do, to their military, security agencies and immigrants.  In many ways John Company is like a nation.”

“That's bull!”

“Has to be. Otherwise there would be no order or law off-world.”

“Of course there are laws. The United Nations has promulgated them for international space.”

“Really? And they have the right to do that?”

“Yes. That's why it's called the United Nations.”

“And all nations On Earthare members and all have the right to vote on proposed legislation?”

“Yes.” 

“Sadly none of this is true.”

“Huh? Of course it is.”

“Firstly, the United Nations purports to, but does not represent every nation on this planet. Even those who are signatories do not have full voting rights. The only nations who have this ability are the permanent members of the Security Council, and that by my last count was five. The legislation on international sea and airspace is at best ineffective. Where there is legislation that works it is by mutual consent between individual or groups of nations. The United Nations has no rights or authority within national boundaries excepting where there the Security Council mandates, and even then such a mandate has questionable authority. They certainly have no legislative power or authority outside of the earth's atmosphere.”

Tanya was taken aback by this and expressed her surprise at the strength of Henry's opinion and the extent of his implied knowledge. 

“Do you honestly think the UCC doesn't do its homework?” He told her. “The board deals with international, and our case, interplanetary trade every day. There are a team of lawyers to advise on international policies and legislation. You are here at their behest, we were told you were coming and how the company is positioned.”

“You imply that 'the company' makes laws and implements them."

"More policy and regulations than laws, but essentially, yes."

“So you're saying there are 'company’ police?”

“And why not? Most corporations have security staff.”

“Security staff and police are entirely different things.”

“Just a matter of jurisdiction. But don't worry, our security staff are all graduates of earthbound academies.”

“So do they arrest people for not getting a medical check?”

“Could do I suppose, but to my knowledge no-body has been so far.”

“So what do they do?”

“Ahh. Now, I could make a statement on that which could be misconstrued. I know why you are going to Mars, and will not prejudice your impartial investigation.”

“So you agree there is an infringement of basic human rights going on there.”

“As I said,” Henry reiterated, “I am not going to make comment you could use at a later point against me or the company.”

 

The medical examination was only the start of it.  The physical and mental tests that followed were truly exhausting. They had gone down two floors in an elevator to an exercise room kitted out with a row of treadmills and weights benches. She had been told to bring running shoes, training shorts and a sports shirt for the tests and clothed in these, her possessions and street clothes, a skirt, blouse and heavy wool coat were packed away in a white plastic bag. Just for a start was an equivalent five-mile uphill treadmill run while connected to a breather tube and about a million other wires. Tanya was not by any means unfit but a jog through central park just did not compare. They had advised there would be physical endurance testing but had not indicated how far it would go. 

"Christ," Tanya "Exhaled as she came off the machine. "If I'd known it would be like this I would have gone to the gym for a month first."

"Then we would have run you harder." Henry said. "It's not about your muscles. We want to know how healthy your heart, lungs and major organs are. In space you will experience muscle wastage so it's pointless beefing them up. There is a heck of a lot of stress on the vital organs however and it takes a lot more than a month in a gym to make them good. Either they are good enough already or they're not. A young woman like you should be no problem, but we have to put you under stress to find out. Last thing we want is you croaking on lift-off because of some previously undiscovered defect."

All the wiring had been left attached to her body and with the bundled ends in hand she had been taken down another floor in the elevator to huge room with a centrifuge at its center. Tanya had never been close to one in real life, but had seen them before on television. It was the last thing she had expected here. Henry guided her into the little cabin at one end of the arm, plugged all her cables in and strapped her tightly into the seat.

"I'll be over in the observation room." He told her. "You will be on camera and audio so if you are uncomfortable or in distress you need to either say so or rapidly blink your eyelids and we will stop. OK?"

"OK." She agreed.

With the room safely emptied the contraption was started up. It seemed to be really slow at first and past the framework of the arm she saw the observation room window go past, once, twice three times then as it gained speed the cabin started to tilt and she found it increasingly difficult to look up to see the faces behind the glass.

The g meter rose to 2, stabilized there for what seemed an eternity but by the clock she could see was only a couple of minutes, then spun to up to 3g where it sat for a full half hour. She was almost getting used to the sensation when the meter started rising again. At 4g she was pinned, unable to move but still it kept rising. A wave of panic rose in her as she felt her heart and lungs struggle, but she was still in control as the meter came to a halt at 5g. It stayed there for three full minutes then wound it's way back down. In the cabin, she could feel the tension releasing from the machine as air resistance and friction slowed it down. Her body too began to relax as the weight came off and she would have liked to have thought that by the time the machine came to a halt, her breathing and heart rate were back to normal.

Even back down to normal it was all Tanya could do to climb out. Her body was mysteriously drained of energy and her co-ordination severely impaired. Seated in a side room as she regained her equilibrium she could see the assembly in all its glory through a glass wall.  How they had got the contraption into the building Tanya could not at first figure out, for the chamber took up the entire basement.  Either the building had to have been built on top of it afterwards or, more reasonably it had come down in very small pieces and been assembled there. She felt compelled to ask.

“Easy” Henry told her. “Above us is the gym, mock-up and suit shop, over them are the mess room and dorms then the parking lot, not the main building. The construction team just dug a four story hole, put a steel frame in, laid down a six foot thick reinforced concrete floor and walls, dropped the armature in during the night and put a roof on. The whole thing was done in six weeks.”

Tanya was impressed, and said so.

“Well, I suppose it did take another month to get the centrifuge balanced and working.” He said, but by that time all the other facilities were ready. It meant we weren't reliant on the RCAF anymore here.”

“What about the other space ports?”

“We did the same thing in Perth. Europe's a different kettle of fish.”

“Oh?”

“Anyway,” He said, changing the subject. “Now there are a bunch of psychological tests. See if you'll go mad, or already are. Five minutes clean up etcetera.”

They took the elevator to the ground level building and a room next to the med lab.

 

On calling it quits for the day, Tanya looked for her bag and her street clothes, expecting to head back to her hotel, for the on-line instructions had warned that she should expect to be there for at least three days. This was not going to happen. “When you come through that first door,” Henry told her, “you never go back through it. It's either through the back to space or the side door to a waiting cab and the airport. That too is a one way door and you don't want to see it until your trip is over.”

“But my hotel?” Tanya queried. “And my stuff.”

“We'll deal with both.” Henry responded. “We have a dorm here for you. Once we've started the process the last thing we need is an infection picked up just before you fly. As to your 'stuff', that'll be waiting for you. From here on in everything you actually need will be provided.”

"That mean I'm good to go?" Tanya asked.

"It means you haven't put up a black yet." Henry responded. "There are lots more tests and results to come back from the lab, but so far, so good."

 

The dorm was, thank goodness, not entirely communal. Tanya had acquired a sinking feeling in her gut at hearing the word. She had heard some disconcerting stories from off-world, some of them being the reason the UN had assigned her to investigate conditions. The dorm room looked like a railway car, a corridor with curtained off cubicles down one side. There were no windows looking out onto bright countryside speeding by, just a plain brushed aluminum wall as was every surface.

She had a cot, it could not be described as a bed, more a recess with a sleeping bag laced into it. Her cubicle had barely enough space to stand and turn around, but at least had the curtain at one end.

“The bathroom is at the far end.” The security guard said as he handed her a stack of clothing comprising two sets of pale blue-gray mechanics coveralls with elasticated cuffs and ankles, a jupon body warmer, two sets of thermal undergarments, socks, gloves and a thermal cap plus some clean sports gear. “Better keep aside personal underwear, but when you've changed, I will take the bag with the rest of your clothes. That includes your purse.”

“My spare underwear is with my stuff in the Hotel.” She replied. “I'm going to need it. And my purse.”

The guard looked at her askance. “Do you know where you are going?” He asked, the derision plain in his voice.

“Not for three to four days.” She responded. “And there's nothing about luggage restrictions on the ticket.”

He smiled. "Your purse until you go then if you must, but in that case I need to check it."

"Check it?" Tanya queried, "Check it for what?"

"Homing devices, recording devices, tools and weapons. General contraband, stuff you wouldn't be allowed on any normal flight."

"But I'm not flying yet."

"Consider this security, and you're just going into the departure lounge."

"So what happened to the scan?" She mocked.

"As you came through from reception." He answered as if her tone were that normal for an honest question. "Your implant is a nice job but you will notice we took the liberty of turning off your receiver module and would like it to stay that way. We did the same with your e-pad for the same reason. You are at liberty to use it for any means save communication until you leave this facility."

"So I can't call my Boss to say I'm OK?"

"Your family too, if you want, but by secure land-line."

"What the hell is that all about?"

"Cell-phone and wi-fi internet connections are remarkably easy to trace. While this is not a secret location, it is not easily discovered. There are unscrupulous people and organizations that would not hesitate to disrupt our operations to their benefit. The Company would wish to minimize this risk by not inviting them in."

"You guys really have a bee in your bonnets about this, don't you?"

"Believe it, Miss Jones. Now when you're sorted, the chef would like to know what you fancy for your dinner. It's out of here, second door on the right, and you're the only one tonight."

"And the rest of my stuff? When am I going to get that?"

"Tomorrow."

"But I need my toiletries now."

"All you will need is in the washroom already."

"You don't get it do you? I'm a girl. All my lotions and potions are in my room."

"You have medications there?"

"No, but I need my skin cream, make-up, shampoo etcetera."

"No you don't."

Taken aback, Tanya retorted hotly, "Who are you to say what I need and what I don't?"

He lifted a hand in platitude. "That's your attitude, OK. Technically you are right, it's not within my remit. But when you finally pack there will be an arbiter as to what you take, I am merely echoing their words. Listen now or listen then. Your choice."

Tanya gave him that look. The 'don't screw with me' look. He raised both gloved hands and backed off.

Tanya washed up, put on the coverall with its black edged collar and fancy embroidered shoulder badges and went to dinner.

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© Alexander Travell