Thursday, May 19, 2011

Untitled Chapter 8

Tash kept herself busy covering up the work site while Constable Gilmore took Jackson’s statement in his rover.  She was glad the Constable had taken her statement first.  She had kept it short and sweet and gotten the hell out of his rover as quickly as possible.  She preferred her dead bodies ancient and finished decomposing rather than fleshy and sitting at her feet in a body bag.  Aside from finding a few tiny jewels disturbed by last night’s looters, they had accomplished absolutely nothing today.  Jackson’s statement was taking much longer because of that body.

“Okay, Dr. Lima,” Constable Gilmore said as he looked at the data pad in his lap, “Just a couple more questions, and we should be about done here.  Let’s see…  Race?”

“Huh?” Jackson looked confused.

“Your race?  I need your race, height, weight, and contact info for my report.  Are you Mediterranean, African, Hispanic, Asian, Arabic?”

Jackson scratched his head, “Um, all of the above?  Is mutt an option?”

Constable Gilmore chuckled, “Not really, no.  I’ll just put you down as Other.  Height?”

“One hundred and ninety-five centimeters.  Weight, one hundred and five kilos.”

“One…oh…five,” the constable said to himself as he wrote on his pad with a stylus, “Hair, black.  Eyes,” he glanced up, “brown.  And, your address?”

“Dome 12, Sublevel 2, Olympus Mons,” he replied.

The constable finished writing down Jackson's address and held the pad and stylus out to him, “Ok, Dr. Lima.  If I can just get you to sign at the bottom here, that should do it.”  Jackson signed on the line and handed the pad back to him.

“Pen?”  The constable gestured as Jackson’s right hand.

“Sorry,” he handed the stylus back to him as he stood up, “What’s that?”

Constable Gilmore looked at the evidence bag sitting on the workbench, “Oh, that’s just an old coin I found in this poor guy’s pocket.  Dr. Floyd said it definitely isn’t from your dig.  I’ll be heading back to where you found the body when I leave here to see if I can follow his trail.  I might even be able to get your stuff back if we’re lucky, but my guess is his partner threw him out of their rover for whatever reason.  Not sure why he’d give him a rebreather though.  Change of heart, maybe?”

“Mind if I take a look?” Jackson pointed at the evidence bag.

“Sure,” the constable replied, “just don’t take it out of the bag.”

Jackson held the bag up in front of his face, “Boy, that thing’s beat up.  1999 silver dollar, definitely not ours by a few million years.  I wonder who he stole it from.”  He put the bag back down on the bench and pulled his hood over his head.  He strapped on his rebreather, and before he put on his mask he asked the constable to let them know as soon as he found anything.

Tash stood at the back of their rover with an empty tote waiting for him as he stepped down from the constable’s rover.  It sped away as soon as the outer door clunked closed.  Tash pushed the button by the door then put her hand to her mask, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

On their way back to the Olympus Mons settlement, they saw the constable’s rover creeping through the desert.  He must have been following the dead looter’s tracks.  Jackson was tempted to turn off the road and track down his missing artifact himself, but he didn’t.  They were still three hundred kilometers from the Olympus Mons settlement, and he had to piss something fierce.

Three hours later they pulled into the parking area.  In another few months an underground parking garage would be finished complete with drive-thru airlocks.  The drive-thru entrance was already built, but it only led to a multistory cavern with no entrance to the colony.  Today they got a shitty parking spot a good five minute walk from the entrance to Dome 12.

The domes at Olympus Mons were more specialized than those at Mathlab.  While Mathlab housed mostly terraformers and engineers, Olympus Mons was home to archaeologists, botanists, exobiologists, other assorted researchers, miners, engineers, roboticists, flight controllers and crew, and a few administrators.  The administrators and their offices were in Dome 1 along with the botanists.  The roboticists lived in Dome 2 and maintained all of the robots in the settlement and mines.  Most of the colony’s engineers lived in Domes 3 through 5.  Some of them worked on the soon to be operational coal power plant isolated in Dome 15 some five kilometers away from the rest of the complex, but the majority worked for the coal and oil companies.

Miners made up a third of the population and lived in Domes 6 through 9.  Dome 9 was the place to go if you wanted to find contraband.  You couldn’t smoke in the domes, but you could cook.  Pot cakes were very popular, but they were scarce and expensive.  Vodka was the unofficial official drink of Mars, but even the best Mars Vodka paled in comparison to the liquors smuggled in by newcomers.  It wasn’t technically legal to run your own still, but there was no official prohibition either.  Constable Gilmore knew better than to try to shut them down.  Besides, he liked to have a shot or two in the evenings.

Like Dome 15, Dome 10 sat a short distance away from the rest of the complex.  The control tower coming out of the top of Dome 10 made it instantly recognizable as the tallest man-made structure on Mars.  During travel season the flurry of people and supplies ferried to and from Earth turned the airfield into a bustling interplanetary spaceport.  The other fifteen months of the year it reverted to sleepy little airfield status with maybe a couple of flights, on a busy day, delivering coal to the already operational power plant at Mathlab or bringing water to Olympus Mons.  Domes 11 through 14 housed all of the researchers and their labs.

Each dome stood a few stories high above ground, but they each went four stories or more below ground.  The above ground portion of most of the domes housed a common area were sometimes people would stage plays or concerts.  Elevator banks that sat in the center of the domes acted as impromptu stages.  The five thousand or so people living at Olympus Mons weren’t the most artistically talented bunch, but any live entertainment was appreciated.  Even the most amateurish endeavors were loudly cheered, and the few genuinely talented people around were treated like celebrities.  It wasn’t unusual for a particular archaeologist from Dome 12 to sign an autograph in one of the underground tunnels connecting the domes.

Labs and living areas were all built to spec below ground.  Most people who worked within the domes lived less than fifty meters from their offices.  A large steel dome could be lowered over the elevator banks in the case of an inner wall breach, and all of the tunnels had large blast doors at each end.  Those emergency measures had only been needed once in thirty years at Olympus Mons, and even then only as a precaution, when an outer glass panel on Greenhouse 5 cracked during a dust storm in 2112.

Tash and her husband, Peter “Pink” Floyd, lived next door to Jackson on Sublevel 2 in Dome 12.  She was the only person who never called him Pink or Pinky.  He had to explain the nickname to her on their second date back on Earth.  She tried listening to the music, but she didn’t like it.  She liked her music like she liked her dead bodies; ancient.  Maybe in another hundred years she might warm up to it.  She also tried calling him Pink, but that didn’t work for her either so she stuck with Pete or Hun.

When they reached Sublevel 2, Jackson practically ran to his apartment to take his long awaited piss.  Tash peeked in on her own apartment, even though she knew Pete would still be working at the coal plant, before she walked across the hall to her lab.  She poured the three little diamonds into a small plastic container, catalogued them, and placed the container in the storage cabinet, and then she pulled the pendant from its place in the cabinet.

She held the pendant up to the light and looked at the etching in it for the hundredth time.  There must have been a reason for it, but she couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  She decided to try something new, so she grabbed a flashlight off the tool bench and turned off the lights in the lab.  When she held the flashlight up to the ruby and shined its light through, an image of it appeared on the far wall.  Alien writing formed a circle around the image in the center.  This wasn’t like any other Martian writing that had been found, and there was no Rosetta Stone for Martian so it would take years to decode, if ever.  In the center was a picture of a…Martian?   That was new.

Was this the first visual evidence of an actual Martian?  It had two large eyes and a thin mouth.  Where the nose would be there were two fairly long finger looking things.  It had catlike ears near the top of its bald head.  In fact, it looked completely hairless, at least from the part of it pictured from the neck up.  This pendant had just turned into the find of a lifetime.  Tashi Floyd would be writing papers about it for years to come.

Almost as an afterthought, she turned the pendant around and shined the flashlight through the other side.  That couldn’t be right, but she’d be damned if it didn’t look like a man complete with two eyes, two ears, nose, mouth, long hair, and a thick beard surrounded by more Martian writing.  The implications of this would be profound beyond belief, but what the hell did it mean?

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