Hey? Two murder stories in a row? Guess what the third book is? So onto yet another murder, or to be precise, murders. For behind another ‘accidental’ death Tanya Jones has uncovered a series of incidents over the years that point the finger of suspicion at serial killings. With once again no why or who she solicits the help of her father, a detective on the Pittsburgh Police Force to help figure if she has got it right, and if so to solve the crimes. With Pa comes his Sergeant, Les Huntsacker. The guy Tanya was expecting is revealed Lesley Huntsacker, the third woman to join the Martian colony and the person to tie it all together. For unlike Tanya and her Pa, Les is a fact sifter and the facts make the case. Petty greed and sporting rivalry have turned a mild and unassuming man into a multiple killer. There are not many individuals who really make a difference in a sports team and over the years Jan Kneiper has made sure none of them will spoil his vision.
As Tanya was trapped by circumstance and has made a place, so love makes Les want to stay.
-It may be a small group that were there to send him off, but the previous evening it seemed that every single person who walked this planet had taken the time to come say good-bye, wish him well and shake his hand. It was not out of respect for his daughter although that was clearly evident. In the three months Bob had been on Mars, like his daughter he had been to every work site, unlike his daughter he had got stuck in with the guys at the face. He had worked the rips and bobcats, hauled chains when they got stuck, driven ore trucks when the drivers needed a restroom break, ferried food lockers down to the face huts and been through every can that wasn’t on the auto-stacker. Guys noted what he was doing and appreciated it. He didn’t just come in and ask questions, he got to know people, got to know what they did before he went there. He earned trust the hard way, and he learned what being a Martian was all about.
Packed in his small bag were a few mementos, the most touching one was a sci-fi monster carved in malachite by one of the Black South African guys. “This is us.” The guy had said as he presented it. “Here we are all green monsters. We’d like you to have this so you remember that for a time you too were a Martian.”
The other little memento he was going to say very little about. The girls were the baseball fans. His game was football, American football and he was a Steelers man, but how could he refuse the intricately carved pirate presented by Matt Parkinson, the production Manager of the Mount Harness mine on behalf of his entire workforce. It was a simple enough mistake, it was well known that Tanya was a Pirates fan and reasonable enough to assume that Bob was too. Maybe one day Bob would go to a Pirates match and maybe if he were feeling generous he would let them put the four-inch high flawless diamond pirate on display.
The old year.
Day 1, Sat-13Z,
Coincidentally the 13thon Earth as well, but as a Sunday in November.
At the gate the board read:
13thZ SLX31A LBD X003 Excelsior 14:35 landed
16thZ SLX41A LBD X004 Exceptional 12:55 on time
19thZ SLX51A LBA X005 Exclusive 10:50 on time
13thZ SLX21B LBA XF02 Exceeding 16:20 boarding
16thZ SLX31B LBA X003 Excelsior 15:10 TBA
19thZ SLX41B LBA X004 Exceptional 14:00 TBA
All times local MTZE.
It was hardly an imposing or complicated flight timetable, most regional airfields, even the remote ones, could boast a more full schedule. But then most flights to and from terrestrial destinations did not count flight times in terms of days, let alone weeks. In connection with the really remote locations, only one service provider flew in and out, but unlike those single runway airstrips the craft that flew in and out here were not relics of a bygone era but the cutting edge of travel. No whirling propellers or even throaty jet engines powered these craft into the lofty skies. No thunderous rocket motors burning tons of fuel a second propelled these strange craft through the cosmos, rather the immense released energy of flux conversion hurtled these ships to half a million miles an hour across the immensity of the void separating the colony from its origin, and yet these power plants were subtle enough to allow a pin point vertical landing on a half g pad.
In this miss-comparison between craft however there were similarities. These sky ships had no bars or attendant service, toilets were, as they had been in the pre-jet era, something to be avoided if possible. Even the pre-prepared plastic wrapped in-flight meals of the new millennium were a sad dream, the best available either a variety of flavored heavy soups each with the consistency of baby food or similarly repulsive chewy protein bars. It did not stop the unending queue of people who wanted to fly, for the destination was more exotic than any conceivable on any tour brochure.
External views from inside the craft were limited, just three tiny windows in the flight deck and in the course of the long journey all the passengers had at one or more times stared through them each vainly looking for something in the immensity of space on which to fix some sort of point of recognition. For the approach and landing phase however everyone was secured in their respective seating station and the only view the passengers had of the outside was via a seat front monitor. This in turn merely transmitted image from any one of the five cameras made available to non-flight crew out of the seventeen internally and externally mounted on-board the craft. The choices for passengers were straight down, an angle down, straight ahead over the top of the craft, a view of the side access door and straight back. Most people chose the over the top view and as a consequence, with the craft ‘upside down’ in reference to the surface, little of the grandeur of the approaching planet could be appreciated while still in the vehicle.
After two weeks in weightlessness and a twelve-hour slow down maneuver, every little nuance of change in attitude was intimately felt by the travellers. The acute angle of entry as gravitational force, reduced in comparison to Earth as it was, introduced its effect translating as the craft slowed into an ever more horizontal mode. Final descent, a mere hundred or so feet came as a gentle vertical drop with ground contact felt as a lurch, visibility completely gone from thirty feet up in a cloud of dust.
Even when landed on the surface there was little to see on camera and with the process of preparing for disembarkation taking full attention even less so. Just like any terrestrial air carrier there was a safety reminder video, this one however was at the end of the flight and included the reminders on breather and helmet connections. Everyone was ready and impatient to make the move and when the main door was opened from outside and a suited ground staff member came in, dutifully cleared their seats and de-camped into a windowless sealed mobile pod. The exit was premature as the passengers then had to wait for the flight deck crew to finish up their post landing checks and join them for the bumpy ride, to where they could not see but which quickly resolved itself via the same door to be the terminal.
Still fully suited from the entry profile all eight passengers and three crew filed from the pod into a short corridor, over the door at the far end of which it said in letters 5 inches high, “Welcome to Mars. Population --637-plus you.” The numbers were incongruous for the location, just printed card sheets hung on a pegboard. As a sign of advance planning or expectation the first two number pegs were left empty. The effect ran against its likely intent in that it looked like a second rate job half done. Adhering to stated regulations, everyone remained fully casqued until through that door. The term to en-casque or de-casque, although technically correct was a strange one to these people, hailing as it did back to the ancient French word for the fitting or removal of a helmet. Entering into the arrivals hall, in reality a 50ft diameter semi transparent polyester dome with two airlock type doors at opposing edges, the party checked in. I doing so they were required to de-casque for identification purposes, and free of the constriction were able at last to appreciate their surroundings.
The pair were different to the usual, the flight crew blasé, almost nonchalant in their arrival and heading straight across the dome and through the exit door into the base proper. These two in contrast were completely and openly awestruck by the surrounding panorama. The man did not even notice her waiting for him, so entranced was he by the alien surroundings.
One of his co-passengers spoke. “Hey Bob, you know where you’re going?”
He shook himself from the reverie to answer. “Yeah, like I said, my girl is here.”
Of a sudden she was there by his side. “Hi pa.” She said, and Bob turned to face a young woman with bobbed hair and dressed in pale blue uniform coveralls with red piping on the collar and breast pockets, the badges on her chest indicating that she was none other than T. M. Jones of the UCC-Internal Security Department, the insignia on her collar indicating a not insignificant rank.
“Jesus!” The co-passenger recoiled at her uniform. “The Kommissar!”
“Welcome to Mars Mr. Harding.” Tanya Jones greeted the co-passenger and continued to extend greeting by name to every other person coming off the craft, bar one.
Even twenty-six months on, at times it seemed unbelievable. That Tanya Jones, a former Agent with the United Nations could through a curious sequence of seemingly random events become the Commissioner of Police for Mars. Back then she had been tasked with what she expected to be another meaningless trip to the back of beyond, only to find that it was way further than that on the mission of a lifetime. Marooned by the same failure that prevented the return of the original commissioner, Tanya’s skills as an investigator earned her the role, and in turn she had earned both a reputation and again in a twist of fortuity, a fortune. Now she was set to stay.
The interlude was enough for Bob to regain his bearings. Despite the pictures she had sent by e-mail he had momentarily failed to recognize his daughter, so changed was her appearance from the last time he had seen her in the flesh. But that this girl was indeed his Tanya was indisputable, and covering his momentary lapse Bob grinned and took her up in a bear hug, the suit awkward but nevertheless embracing. “That’s my girl.” He said. She may have been close to thirty years old and held the esteemed rank of Commissioner of Police on Mars, but to her pa she was still a kid. Recovering from the hug he continued, “I have to say girl, you got some clout. This is the vacation of a lifetime. Just too bad your mother failed the medical. I brought Huntsacker instead, hope you don’t mind.”
The grin made it hard to talk. Tanya had to put on her professional face for a moment. “Pa, you already said, and yeah I’m pissed that Mom couldn’t come but I guess that’s life. So why should I mind about Huntsacker? Could turn out to be useful, and anyway it’s you who he’ll be sharing a bunk with.”
“Jeez, that might not be so bad, but promise to not tell your mother?”
At that point, her father introduced Les Huntsacker, the one person Tanya had not yet greeted.
“Ah.” Tanya enunciated on seeing that Les, or more precisely the Leslie Huntsacker on the manifest and the man she had expected was in fact a very attractive auburn haired woman called Lesley. “For once my spies have let me down.” Tanya said, and holding out her hand she introduced herself. “Hi Les, or is it actually Lesley? I’m Tanya, Robert’s daughter. Welcome to Mars.” Turning back to her father, “Is there something I should know?”
“Absolutely not.” Les responded, “I’m glad to be here Tanya. Good to meet you at last. Bob talks about you so much I feel like I know you already. And yeah, it is Lesley, but just Les will do.”
“Good.” Tanya replied, noting of course that Lesley Huntsacker was 20 years her father’s junior and to be blunt, quite a looker. “So Lesley, there’s a glitch, actually a number of them.”
Huntsacker gave her that ‘well surprise me’ look.
“First.” Tanya said, warming to the situation, “I have to find you some accommodation as there is a gender and status issue here. You can de-suit in my place while I get some help on this. There are plenty of bunks but we’ve a bunch of girls due in. Second, you need to be aware that you are in a minority here and behave accordingly. I need a quick update on where you’re at and give you some rules.”
“You’re shitting me.” Lesley said.
“Absolutely not. You are the third woman to have ever set foot on this planet and you’re looking at the only other one here right now. As of this morning there are six hundred thirty-one men here, nearly all of who haven’t gotten close to a female for at least two Earth years, some for nearly ten. How you handle yourself on an intimate basis has the potential to destabilize the entire colony and could set unacceptable precedents for all the women due to arrive over the next three months.”
“Wow,” Huntsacker commented. “You take this seriously.”
“Lesley, in this environment there is little that doesn’t have to be taken seriously. I don’t mean to be an ogre, but the potential for things to go badly wrong is huge and getting dead is easier here than taking a wrong turn in the Bronx.”
“You trying to scare me?” She queried.
“No way. But what I don’t want is you to be put in any form of peril you don’t need. I got fifty-three women coming up that I know about. All of them will get a much more detailed lecture than Trisha already gave them.”
“Commissioner Trishala Parkar. She’s got the moon, which is a much more demanding job. If you include the to and fro population, over nine thousand people work there now and anyone bound for here goes through her network. She’s not actually my boss, but might as well be. Let’s say we have mutual respect, so I don’t do anything without her knowledge. She’s not keen on this, but understands. Pa has even had her to dinner a number of times, I would have thought you’d met.”
“Very English accent, about five feet six inches, a hundred and twenty pounds, dark skin, hair and eyes, maybe Asian Indian?” Huntsacker questioned.
“OK I met her. Twice. First time over bagels in the team room, never knew who she was or what she was doing there. Like everyone she liked the back wall panorama.”
“She’s on it too.” Tanya told her.
“Really? Didn’t figure that. Your pa always made a big thing that you were there. Didn’t mention anyone else and kinda difficult to see faces in the visors. Anyway, saw her briefly again on the moon, didn’t figure it as important as we were there for such a short time.”
“OK so you know, Trisha is Commissioner of Police for UCC on the moon, I am Commissioner of Police for Mars. It’s not like Pittsburgh. I am the law, what I say goes end of Story.”
“Wow.” Lesley exclaimed. “And you don’t let it go to your head?”
“Well you never know.” Tanya replied, a twinkle in her eye. “If absolute power can get you here no questions asked…” The sentence was deliberately left.
Huntsacker could not help herself in the “You serious?” query.
Tanya could not help herself either. She had to give up the pretense. “Oh come on, I have Harry, Trisha and my Pa on my shoulders, how could I do anything but what is right?”
“Yeah,” Huntsacker concurred, although plainly not truly convinced. “So who’s Harry?”
“Harry?” Tanya returned. “You’ll get to meet Harry soon enough. Harry isMars. He’s got another four cycles as governor but we’re thinking of changing the constitution. He’s that important.”
“Shit.” Lesley exhaled. “Ok what next?”
“You get cleaned up and we go to dinner. That OK?”
“That’s great.” Pa said.