Well, that's not for certain. I have a couple of titles in mind. In my computer's directory, it's titled "Project 8". Earlier projects include a work that I got about three chapters into and then I lost interest. There are a couple of completed first drafts. One of which I printed out-- the hard copy has enough red marks in it to almost use up an ink pen.
But that's neither here nor there, I guess. So, without further ado:
Two hours later, there were scraping noises and a little bit of thumping. The door at the front of the cabin opened and the same woman came out. She went to what I now presumed to be an airlock, opened the inner door and stepped inside. Then she opened the outer door and came back into the cabin.
“Thank you for flying with Fakawi Spacelines, have a nice day, buh-bye,” she said with a grin. Then she went back wherever she had come from.
“Seriously? ‘Fakawi Spacelines’,” I asked, as we went to the lockers to get my baggage.
Amy shrugged. “Spacers are weird. It’s a really boring job, most of the time.”
We went through the hatches and found ourselves in a tube. There was a floor, but the height was barely enough that I could stand erect. The tube went on a few hundred feet and ended in a door.
“What is this, a spaceship equivalent of a jet-bridge,” I asked.
“They don’t pressurize the hangar? We are in a hangar, right?”
“We are. But it takes too long to pressurize and depressurize a hangar. It’s expensive in both air lost and energy. So the ships stay in vacuum unless they go planetside or need to go into a repair facility.”
I thought about that. “You have a repair facility here?”
Amy laughed. “Hell, we build them here. That’s one of the reason why the move out to the Kuiper Belt is such a pain in the ass.”
We came to a heavy door. Amy pushed a button next to the door, it slid open. Once we were through, she pushed a button on the other side and the door slid closed. We were in a hallway, there was another doorway a little way down, only the door was open. Looking through, I could see another door, also open. I guessed that this place was probably carved up into as many spaces as possible in order to prevent a catastrophic loss of pressure.
Soon we came to what appeared to be a customs checkpoint, manned by three unarmed inspectors. “Good morning,” one said. “Please put your bags on the table and show me your ID.”
I lifted my stuff onto the table. Amy gave him her card and I gave him mine. One of the other inspectors was starting to open my suitcase, when the guard holding our IDs said: “Belay that.” He took our cards behind a podium, I heard a slight beep. He looked at something on the podium, probably a screen.
“Thank you, Ma’am. Welcome to Farside Base,” he said as he gave our IDs back to us. He gestured at the other two guards, they lifted my stuff off the table and handed my purse back to me.
“Thanks,” I said. We went through the door into another hallway, this one had people. When we were out of earshot of the checkpoint, I asked: “Has that ever happened before?”
“Not to me. If I have any bags, they tear through them and they frisk me. Shit, if I had known that was going to happen, I’d have asked you to stick a bottle of single-malt Scotch into your suitcase.”
“You can get a lot for that?”
She laughed. “Oh, you have no idea.”
I had noticed before that Amy was not traveling with any luggage, not even a purse. It struck me as odd, then, but as I didn’t buy her story initially, I wasn’t inclined to ask. She was, though, wearing a watch and she looked at it. She touched it and then said: “I’m to take you to a welcome meeting.”
Amy changed direction at a crossing corridor and eventually we came to an elevator. We went down. It opened on a nicer foyer and, once through another open pressure door, we were in a nicely appointed hall. I followed her to an office that had a young man sitting outside. “You’re Rebecca Baker,” he asked.
“I am. Do you need to see my ID?”
“Please.” I handed it to him. He looked at it and handed it back. “Thank you, will you please have a seat? The Director will be with you shortly.” He looked at Amy. “The Director asked me to express his thanks for helping out. You’re released from this assignment.”
Amy nodded. She turned to me. “Becca, it was great to see you again.”
“You, too,” I said.
“Stay safe,” she said, then she turned and left.
Ten minutes later, a balding man, who was working on a pot belly came out. “Ms. Baker, I’m Michael Holmes, the Director of the Western Alliance. Please, come in.”
I did, bringing my stuff with me. Holmes’s office was nicer than Smith’s back on Earth. Much nicer. He also had a table and chairs in a corner away from his desk, which was where we sat down. I didn’t ask what the “Western Alliance” was. It sounded important and nothing peeves off important people more than their thinking that you didn’t know they were important.
“Can I offer you something to drink,” he asked.
“Coffee, with two creams OK?”
“Sure.” He walked over to his desk, pushed a button, and told someone named Stan to bring coffee for him and me.
“Did you have a good trip,” he asked.
“Possibly. I have no basis to compare it to, “ I said.
“Other than one of our executive barges, your trip was likely as good as it gets for a short hop.”
“Amy said that I’d get a condensed history briefing,” I asked.
Holmes nodded. “You will. You’re going to be read into a number of programs.”
“I’ve heard nothing of any of this, and Amy told me that this has been going on for many decades. How come nobody knows back home?”
“You mean, what would happen if you went back to Earth and started telling people?”
“Hypothetically speaking,” I said.
“Hypothetically speaking, you’d be dosed with some untraceable drugs that would make you temporarily insane. You’d be locked up in a hospital for a time, then released once you seemed stable. Stir and repeat a few times. Then, if you were still a problem, you’d be hit with a sedative, again untraceable, and force-fed enough cheap vodka to kill you.” He smiled.
I changed tack. “What can I do for you?”
Holmes held up his hand as Stan brought in the coffees. When Stan left, he said: “One of our deputy administrators on another world died in an industrial accident. Or so they say. He was sent there to root out corruption. I have to be open to the possibility that he was killed.”
I sipped the coffee, it tasted different. Maybe it was synthetic. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to determine, to your satisfaction, whether he died in an accident, or he was killed or if the answer cannot be determined. That’s the job.”
“If he was killed, you don’t want me to find out who did it or who ordered it done?”
Holmes shook his head. “Not unless it was a cuckolded spouse or a disgruntled employee. If what he was doing got him killed, then I have ways to clean up that mess that will make people wish they had cooperated with him.” He turned and lifted a thin tablet from a small table next to his chair. “This has all I have on the case. Please hold it in both hands for a few seconds.”
Mystified, I did so. The tablet beeped.
“It’s now keyed to you and only you. If someone were to put it into your dead hands or unconscious hands or anything other than a normal alert state, it won’t open.”
“And if somebody tries to hack their way into it?”
Holmes smiled. “They’ll have a very bad day.”
“Where is this world?”
Holmes shrugged. “I don’t think that’d mean much to you. It’s a three-week trip from here, mostly in TD space. The world is called ‘Jamoka’.”
I frowned. “That’s an odd name.”
“One of the guys in the first crew working it said that `only a real jamoke would ever live here.’ They started calling the planet Jamoka and it stuck.”
“And the inhabitants are ‘Jamokans’?”
“What’s the next step?”
Holmes leaned back in his chair. “We’ll get you credentialed as a lawman for the Western Alliance, of a rank that’ll facilitate your mission. We’ll get you outfitted, for your clothes just say ‘Earther’. And you’ve got to pass a medical evaluation and get current on your shots for off-world travel.”
“Any scientific support?”
“You mean like a crime lab?”
“No. You’ll have a camera and a computer that can do some analysis of things, but if you want an Abigail Sciuto, you’re on your own.”
“Up to you. We have an armory. And we have secure storage for anything you want to leave here.”
“OK, so now what,” I asked.
Holmes went over to his desk, pushed a button, and told somebody go find Sheila. “I’ll turn you over to Sheila Ellis. She’s the local administrator of the..” he said something that sounded like ‘Walliff’. “She’ll get you run through the rest of the process here and onto a ship headed for Jamoka.”
“When do I leave?”
“As soon as you’re ready to go,” he said.
“Who do I report to?”
“To me. If you have problems getting access here on the base, you can go through Sheila and let her iron things out. She’s very good at it. On Jamoka, you’ll have carte blanche, but you’ll be on your own. As for what your findings are, I want them from you, personally and in person.”
I thought that was a good idea. “Just to be clear, if I send you a written report saying that it was indeed an accident?”
Holmes shook his head grimly. “If I were to receive such a report, I will presume that not only is it not true, but that you’ve been coerced. It will result in a very strong response at Jamoka.”
I didn’t know if that meant he’d send more cops, send in the Space Marines (assuming they’d have some, I was betting they did) or nuke the place from orbit, just to be safe. I didn’t ask.
There was a knock on the door and a woman stuck her head in. “You wanted to see me, Boss,” she said.
He waved her in. “Yes. Sheila Ellis, Rebecca Baker. You all know what’s going on, so please, get things underway.”
“Nice to meet you, sir,” I said.
“Good luck,” he said and we shook on it.