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Authors: Milo James Fowler

Dance by the Light of the Moon

BOOK: Dance by the Light of the Moon
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Dance by the Light of the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milo James Fowler © 2014

www.milojamesfowler.com

 

 

Originally published by
Perihelion Science Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

When
she first caught the blip on her proximity scanner, Eyan thought one of the
drillbots had broken loose and was drifting by its tether from Futuro's
underside. Nothing the control team couldn't handle—a small blot on an
otherwise pristine moonscape as it swept upward, reeled into the launch bay.
But they notified her on internal comms as soon as they had the situation under
control, requesting her presence immediately.

In
all her lifetimes as station security chief, she'd never seen anything like it.

Now
as she stood outside the portside airlock and waited for the visitor to
complete his pressure equalization sequence, Eyan found herself at a loss. She
played her recent conversation with Dr. Hammersmith over again in her mind,
hoping to make sense of things.

"Deal
with this," he'd said crisply via Link, his voice resonating from the
subdermal implant behind Eyan's left ear. "Make it disappear."

"I
haven't completed my investigation, sir. There is no need to send—"

"He
will arrive within the hour. I expect you to make every effort not to impede
his investigation in any way. He'll get the job done, I'm sure."

"Am
I being replaced, sir?"

"Nonsense,"
he'd been quick to respond. "You know how the UW mucky mucks can be.
They've insisted on an impartial observer, that's all."

"I
am still in charge of the investigation, then."

Silence
held the moment. "I'll let him explain the situation to you when he
arrives. Rest assured, Eyan, you'll still have your job when this is
over—provided Hammersmith Enterprises is not deemed liable for any
damages."

On
that note, he'd abruptly ended the transmission.

Damages.
Liability. All too much to be bothered with in the eyes of Earth's greatest
entrepreneur. Eyan couldn't help wondering if Dr. Hammersmith had sold his soul
in the bargain when he'd won sole rights to the moon's titanium ore deposits
over fifty years ago, managing to outbid the entire Eastern Conglomerate and
garner the favor of the United World extraterrestrial acquisitions board.

But
she knew she was the last person to question another's soul.

The
airlock door slid open automatically with a rush of stagnate air. Eyan raised
her chin, hands clasped behind her back, expecting to see a soft little
bureaucrat in a bulky pressure suit come forth—they always overdressed for the
occasion, believing they could be sucked out into space at any moment. Instead,
it was a bald, barefoot monk with a face as white and devoid of expression as
the robe he wore.

Eyan
expected to hear herself say, "Welcome to Futuro 2," but her eyes
immediately caught the scabbard slung across the man's back, and she blurted
out, "Weapons are not allowed here." How had he managed to check such
a thing through shuttle security?

"Projectile
weapons. Of course." He met her gaze briefly with an air of indifference
and entered a command code for the unmanned shuttle to return to Earth.
"One would be a fool to risk puncturing the hull of this station."

Eyan
tried to read the look in his dark eyes, but it was difficult; they seemed to
lack irises. Being adept at translating body language, she could tell he had
nothing at stake here, and he did not recognize her authority over him.

"Welcome
to Futuro 2, Mr.—"

"Cade."
He strode past her, arms across his abdomen with hands tucked into the generous
sleeves of his robe. His bare feet made no sound as they pressed against the
cold plasteel floor. "What lifetime is this?"

With
a frown at his complete disregard for protocol—one did not enter Futuro 2 and
strike out on one's own without an escort—Eyan moved to overtake the slight
fellow and extended her hand, leading the way to the conference room. "Dr.
Hammersmith regrets being unable to meet you in person, but we have a vidLink
set up—"

"I
will meet with the crew first." He did not acknowledge her with even a
glance. He seemed, by all appearances, to be counting rivets along the floor,
walls, and ceiling of the corridor. "You have not answered my
question." He faced her as he walked. "Your lifetime?"

"I
don't see that it's any of your business."

"A
single question. If we are to work together, we must know something about one
another."

His
non-confrontational demeanor coupled with such a rude request made a strange
juxtaposition—as if knowing her current lifetime would sum up her entire
existence for him.

"My
fifth—on Futuro."

"And
in all your time here, nothing like this has ever happened before?"

"Of
course not. I included that in my preliminary report."

Twenty
meters ahead, the corridor branched in two; one side led to the control team's
operations center where all six of them would be on duty at this hour, and the
other side led to the mess hall and conference room. Futuro 2 was small enough
that everyone knew how to get everywhere they needed within the first
twenty-four hours aboard. But unless Cade had managed to memorize a map of the
station's layout, he wouldn't know she was leading him to the vidLink with Dr.
Hammersmith, as scheduled, despite his request to meet the crew.

"How
long are the team's shifts?"

"Six
hours." The same as any workday on Earth—also in her report. "What's
your order?"

His
pace slowed, but he did not stop, his face an indecipherable mask.

"My
single question." She shrugged, nodding at his attire. "Not exactly
what I'd expect from a UW official."

"I
do not represent the United World government."

Of
course not. He was an
impartial observer
. "Last I heard, religions
on Earth had died out."

"Five
lifetimes ago, perhaps. But things have changed. There are new ways that harken
back to the beliefs of the ancients—when life was simpler."

"How
ancient is that?" She pointed to his scabbard, still uncomfortable with
him bringing such a thing onto her station.

His
thin lips curved upward slightly. "There has never been a death aboard a
Futuro station." He stopped where the corridor forked. He didn't know the
way, or he wouldn't have stood there waiting for her to lead onward.
"Until today."

Eyan
folded her arms, flexing her slim-but-sizeable biceps. "You're not a
bureaucrat, and you're not a priest. So who the hell are you?"

"I
am the man to get the job done, according to your employer."

With
a polite nod, he struck off down the corridor leading to the operations center
as if he'd known the way all along.

 

* * *

 

Dr.
Hammersmith's attention was divided, but he managed to catch the gist of what
Eyan relayed.

"He's
there already? Excellent. You just let him do his job, and we'll be able to put
all of this behind us in no time." He didn't bother to meet her gaze.

Eyan
stood at attention, alone in the conference room, and faced the wide screen on
the wall before her. From the vidLink's perspective—low on Hammersmith's desk,
intentionally placed there to make him look like an imposing figure—he appeared
incredibly busy, juggling two slates while he entered streaming data into his
desktop console.

"He
came aboard armed, sir. With a sword."

"As
well he should have. You might have a murderer on board, Eyan. It's only
prudent that this fellow come able to defend himself. You carry around one of
those shock prods, don't you?"

She'd
never had to use it. "Part of my uniform, sir."

"Then
consider that sword to be part of his. Eccentric maybe, but the world takes all
kinds, as you should know well enough." With a wink, he met her gaze long
enough to reach over and end the transmission.

Eyan
stared at her reflection as the screen faded to black. What sort of religion
would expect its priests to carry long blades across their backs? But of more
concern was the fact that Dr. Hammersmith didn't appear to see anything amiss
with the situation.

Eyan
lifted her prod from its holster, and the weapon snapped to life, crackling
with static energy as its forked prongs glowed in the dark.

 

* * *

 

Outside
the operations center, the situation in the corridor was already getting ugly.

"Open
up!" Franklin's eyes bulged with fury as he pounded his large fists
against the door. He paused, catching sight of Eyan as she approached.
"Who the hell is this guy? Keeps Peters inside and kicks the rest of us
out!"

"He's
here with Dr. Hammersmith's permission, as an impartial observer." Eyan
kept her voice level, just as she had when Franklin showed her Xavier's body
that morning. In situations where emotions had a tendency to spike, maintaining
an even, midrange tone usually helped to deflate hostilities.

"Did
you see that freakin' sword?" Franklin clawed at his bushy ginger beard—a
physical tick he displayed while under duress. Standing head and shoulders
above the other members of the crew, he was usually the jovial giant among
Futuro's control team. But when angry, he was a major force to be reckoned
with. "All operations are on pause, Eyan. Are you sure Hammersmith's okay
with that? Isn't time
money
?"

They
all knew that every minute lost meant millions of dollars to Hammersmith
Enterprises. "Mr. Cade is here with full authority to—"

"Does
he outrank you?"

She
didn't know. She still had no idea who or what Cade really was.

"What
are we supposed to do now? Wait for him to interview us one at a time? He
could've used the conference room for this cop routine!" Franklin crossed
his thick arms—fat outweighing muscle by a factor of two to one—and leaned back
against the plasteel wall. He glanced at his teammates, murmuring discontent
among themselves. "He thinks one of us did it. Is that it?"

"He's
only just arrived," Eyan said. "I'm sure he's gathering as many facts
surrounding the incident as he can."

"
Incident
,"
Rojas spoke up, her eyes kindling with hate at the sight of Eyan. "That's
all he was to you?"

Douglas—the
oldest member of the crew by at least twenty years—muttered, "Can't expect
a machine to care. Isn't that so, Eyan? You're just a glorified
drillbot
."

"Hey."
Franklin stared him down.

Grumbling
to himself, Douglas nudged Rojas and they turned their full attention to the
wide porthole overlooking the moon below them, waiting for their work to
recommence.

"So
he's some kind of samurai detective?"

Eyan's
gaze returned to Franklin. She didn't know why he was the only member of
Futuro's crew to treat her like one of them. "Dr. Hammersmith wouldn't
tell me. Perhaps you can ask Cade yourself when it's your turn to be
interviewed."

As
if on cue, the door to the operations center slid open and Peters stepped out
with an expression of subdued bewilderment. "Next," she said quietly,
as though it were a doctor's office.

"That
would be me." Franklin glared at the others—Douglas and Rojas in
particular—who seemed perfectly content moongazing. "Time to find out what
the hell is going on around here."

He
stomped into the command module, and the door slid shut behind him.

 

* * *

 

Xavier's
body was already frozen brittle by the time Franklin had reeled him in. Eyan
had seen death in a variety of forms long before her lifetimes on Futuro, but
never anything like this. It was as if the man's blood had turned to glass and
split him open from the inside out.

"Why
did he leave the station?" Cade sat across from her now, staring with
those dark eyes of his. "Did his duties require him to spacewalk?"

Eyan
shook her head. "The drillbots are remote-controlled."

"The
crew never needs to leave the station."

"Not
during the duration of their assignment."

"Then
why did he?"

"Excuse
me?"

"What
would have induced a man to tether himself in place of a drillbot?"

"You
think it was suicide." After meeting with each member of the control team,
that's what Cade had concluded?
Ridiculous
.

"As
does twenty percent of your mind." The corners of Cade's lips turned
upward a millimeter. "In your report, you stated there was a chance that
Xavier acted alone due to an undiagnosed psychosis of some sort."

"I
was weighing all possibilities—no matter how remote."

"
Remote
.
Like you."

"How's
that?" Eyan was not warming up to this man.

"Futuro's
crew controls the drillbots on the moon's surface. All of the identifying,
digging, and collecting of titanium ore is done in this room, but no one ever
has to get moondirt on their hands." He watched her. "Dr. Hammersmith
runs this station and the others like it, yet he never needs to involve himself
in matters such as this. He handles them remotely. With you."

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