It’s Thursday, so it must be time to go back to Volume Three!
You know, it’s really weird to me. In my mind, this is the most recent book – and I guess it is, since it’s the ‘most recent’ one which is fully available. But it’s been finished since November, and since then I’ve written another novel, gotten that one out to my First Readers, and have started on the FIFTH book in this series.
Anyways, yes. Back to the matter at hand. Last week was a ‘phone call’ between Cass and Dogfish; what’s going to come of that, I wonder?
Well, you’re not going to find out this week. Nope, you’re headed back to Artemis City. Enjoy the visit!
(And click any of the images to purchase the book!)
The undercity was never a good place to be.
When the entire colony thought you were dead, it was worse.
And when the official – and unofficial – leadership would be embarrassed if you ever surfaced, it became a course in advanced survival.
Davie didn’t know how she would have survived the first week, let alone six lunars, without Marc’s help. A lifetime serving the Colony may have left her skilled in political infighting, but she was sorely lacking in street smarts, something she learned within seconds of meeting him.
Now, at least, she held her own. Mostly.
“Dammit, Davie, you have to stop doing that!”
“That,” repeated Marc. “When you pass people from the upper city, you can’t make eye contact!”
“But I didn’t!”
“You weren’t looking down, that’s nearly as bad.”
A dozen lunars ago, she’d been Minister of War for the Artemis Colony, and the de facto Minister for the Solarian Union. That made her commander of the most powerful navy in human space. Then came the Terran Federation and her Primus’s obsession with destroying it. That was problematic, since when the Primus said jump, Artemesians tried to put dents in the ceiling.
Artemis Colony, still called that despite not being anyone’s colony for generations, was a representative democracy. There was a legislative body, and an executive, and a judiciary; there were elections, and a Council of Ministers to guide the President. None of that mattered. The actual government was an oligarchy, teetering on the brink of tyranny, ruled by the Four Families of Artemis: Newling, Dent, Pitt, and Whitmore. The actual leader was granted the title of Primus, and it went to whoever proved themselves the most ruthless, bloodthirsty, and power-hungry. Currently the position was held by Vasilia Newling, who repeatedly demonstrated her willingness to do anything necessary to retain her power. Her favorite method of shoring up her support was to have the offending person, be they supplicant or Minister, tossed onto the surface of Luna without a spacesuit.
Initially, the Primus hadn’t been bothered by the Terran Federation; that was largely due to a lack of interest in most events Earthside. As long as the rare earth metals guaranteed to Artemis by the Accords and Amendment kept flowing, the politics and activities of the planetary nations were largely irrelevant.
The day the Enterprise was launched changed it all.
In an instant of realization the Primus became aware of the fundamental threat that the starship brought to her power. The Accords, and the Amendment, only held the governments of Earth in thrall by depriving them of the materials necessary for high-tech applications. The Federation was not so bound; they had no requirements to turn over materials, and as long as they operated in countries which were not signatories Artemis had no claim.
Additionally, the nature of the ship itself was as direct an assault on the power of Artemis and the Union as could possibly be. If humanity, specifically Terran humanity, could escape the Solar System, why would they care for the dictates of the Solarian Union? Humanity would be free, and Artemis would be irrelevant.
After launch day, as the Primus rejected all suggestions for a negotiated solution, Whitmore had become more and more convinced that her Ministry would be called upon. She had drawn up plans and, when the moment seemed opportune, presented them. The Primus had accepted them, but had added a stark warning: succeed or die.
The first half of the plan had succeeded; the second half had failed. Rather than risk her future on the fickle mercy of the Primus, she’d made hasty plans to disappear, ending up in the undercity of Artemis.
She was still learning.
“Look at the ground when you’re walking, dammit,” corrected Marc. “Looking up draws attention. You can’t draw attention to yourself.”
“I know, I know,” she muttered, impatient with herself.
“Then do it!”
They were out because Marc finally had a lead on a way off-planet for her. She’d argued for weeks against leaving, but he’d worn every excuse away. At the heart of it, she didn’t want to leave. Luna, Artemis, was her home, dammit, and no tin-plated dictator was going to run her off of it!
But of course she was. She controlled everything legitimate on Luna, and influenced everything else. The Undercity existed because she didn’t care enough to clear it away and it had occasional uses. That didn’t lend itself to warm feelings of security. Getting out of Artemis would have limited utility; travel was restrictive between the various settlements and cities, and everyone traveled in their pressure suit just in case. Her pressure suit, if it hadn’t been recycled, was still in her quarters. That left getting off Luna, or sooner or later she’d be breathing vacuum.
“Who are we meeting?” she said, trying to get him off the subject of her eyes.
“Someone who can help,” is all he would answer. Again.
“That’s not very helpful.”
“It’s all I’m going to say. What you don’t know you can’t tell. When this is all over, you’ll either be gone or dead. I’ll still be here, and I’d rather stay alive.”
Fortunately for her patience, they arrived at their apparent destination a few moments later, a small restaurant on the edge of the area permitted to the infrequent tourists. It seemed busy, an unusual enough condition, especially considering the early hour. She checked; it was barely eleven. While tourists weren’t forbidden, most of the other polities that made up the Solarian Union were distant enough, and hardscrabble enough, to make travel for pleasure a rarity. That only left…
“They’re from Earth!”
“Shut up, or so help me I’ll space you myself!” Marc hissed.
Nobody moved like an Earther. Their overdeveloped musculature, designed for gravity six times normal, constantly tried to propel them upward and forward. As a result they were all instructed to shuffle, to move with exaggeratedly slow movements, lest they accidentally impale themselves while dining.
“Two, please,” Marc said to the host, ignoring her. No wonder they’d dressed better than the Undercity demanded today. The host, hearing the Artemesian accent, dropped the polite veneer.
“There’s better food down the street, cobber,” he said in an undertone. “Cheaper, too. You don’t want to eat with groundhogs.”
“I promised her a special meal,” answered Marc with a shrug and a thumb pointed at Davie. “So we’re here.”
“Your credits,” agreed the host, and guided them to a table inside.
“Can we have one of the booths against the back? She likes watching them try to eat,” Marc asked, slipping a credit note of some denomination to the host. It was apparently sufficient, as he smoothly redirected them to the rear of the small restaurant.
After they were seated, and the host gone, Davie whispered, “Now what do we do?”
“Now you order some food. Order something good, and filling. I don’t know when you’re going to be able to eat again.”
That was the first she’d heard of that, but as a former naval officer she knew better than to pass up an opportunity to eat. She looked over the menu projected above the middle of the table.
“What is beefsteak?”
“Huh? Groundhog food. A piece of an animal, seared.”
“Part of an animal? Like a dog? Yuck.”
“Bigger, I think. Importado from Earth, that’s why it’s forty credits.”
“They don’t have anything I recognize.”
“Then I’ll order for you,” he said simply. “Just eat it.” He punched their orders into the table, plus drinks, then sat back.
“Relax,” he said. “Try to look like you’re enjoying yourself.”
“Relax? You’ve been yelling at me for lunars to not let down my guard, to remember where I am and what to do, and now you say relax?”
“Relax. You’ll live longer.” Drinks arrived and he stopped talking, resuming when they were alone again.
“My contact here will reach out when they’re able. Until then, try to pretend that you want to be here.” He sat back, sipping his drink, and resolutely refused to say anything else of consequence.
She didn’t know what he ordered, nor did she recognize it when it was presented to her, but she tucked into it with a vigor which was only half feigned. Much to her surprise, the plate was nearly empty when a woman, late middle age, approached their table.
“This her?” she said without preamble, her accent revealing her origins on Mars. Blocked from the colonization of the moon, Russia had instead concentrated on Mars. While English was the lingua franca of space, the relatively homogeneous Martian Colonies retained more of their cultural heritage than the other planetary nations.
“Yes,” agreed Marc, standing.
“Follow me,” said the woman brusquely, turning and heading off at a brisk pace.
Davie looked to Marc, but he just waved her to follow. Not wanting to lose sight of the guide, “Thank you,” was all Davie managed to say before she was forced to hurry off.
The woman disappeared into the back, weaving her way skillfully through the busy kitchen, until she got to a closed hatchway that said, ‘Manager’. Barely pausing to key in a code, she pushed her way through, then waited impatiently for Davie to cover the last few meters.
“Strip,” she said, closing the hatch.
“I – what?”
“Strip. No time argue.” She had gone around the desk to the back of the room and ducked behind it to the floor. Standing, she handed Davie what looked to be a tourist’s day bag, complete with the logo of the Lunar Travel Agency – ‘When Only the Moon Will Do’.
“What are waiting? Strip.”
Davie recognized the voice of command, even if she didn’t understand the urgency, and started peeling out of her clothes. Body modesty wasn’t an issue to anyone who grew up in the crowded corridors and cubic of Artemis and in short order she was fully undressed. Artemis might not possess a huge population, especially compared to Earth, but every bit of cubic had to be wrested away from the hostile vacuum. That put space at a premium, so if a human being needed two cubic meters for sleeping space, they got two cubic meters and not a centimeter more. That made privacy a luxury of the powerful. Even there, even among the Four Families, it was at best an occasional indulgence. More often it was communal bathing and close quarters. This? Nothing unusual, especially after the past several lunars.
“Here,” said the still-unnamed woman, tossing another bag at Davie. “Put on, quickly. Group leaving soon, you must join them.”
Still unsure, but realizing the futility of asking, Davie dug through the other bag, dressing in strange and vaguely uncomfortable clothes. She gradually recognized them as the clothes Terran tourists wore to ‘blend in’ while visiting Artemis, which actually only drew attention from the true Artemesians. The cut, the texture, the fit, were all subtly ‘off’. In a few moments she was dressed and ready for whatever was coming next.
“Done,” she said simply.
“What do I do with my clothes?”
“Leave them, I will dispose.”
She was clearly impatient to get moving and Davie fell in behind her, exiting the office space and passing through to the restaurant. Davie noted the restaurant was much emptier than it had been just a few minutes before.
“Hurry!” insisted the woman, increasing her speed and exiting the dining area. “Wait!” she called, pitching her voice in an effort to aim it.
A vaguely official-looking person turned at her call. When he did, Davie could see the LTA logo and colors, along with a nametag that read ‘Tony’. “Yes? Did we forget something on the bill?”
“You forgot one your damned tourists! You do better! You don’t pay enough for us babysit!” She grabbed Davie’s arm and shoved her at the man, apparently some sort of guide.
“Whoa, calm down Karolina! It was just an oversight, that’s all. She gave me her handbag, I knew she’d be along.” He held out a small bag. “You okay, Miss? You were in their ‘fresher for a long time.”
Davie assumed that he was talking to her. “Yes, Tony, thanks. Just taking time to adjust, I guess.” She was winging it, and hoped to Oberon that this Tony would keep throwing her clues. “Sorry I was late.”
He tried to look at her sternly, as a tour leader should, but she could tell that ‘stern’ wasn’t really in his repertoire. “Don’t let it happen again. Mistress Karolina is always kind to us when we visit, and not just for our credits.” He said the name with the accent on the penultimate syllable, kah-ra-LEEN-a.
“Yes, Tony.” She turned to the woman, Karolina, and said, “Thank you for all your kindness, and I apologize for any inconvenience, Mistress.”
Karolina nodded fractionally. “It was no difficultness. Until next time, Gospodin Bulcher.” She turned and returned to the restaurant without another word.
Davie was left watching her for a moment, holding the LTA bag in one hand and the one Tony’d handed her in the other, before turning herself and hustling after him and, presumably, the group.
“You’re really picking up on moving in Artemis,” he said with just a hint of emphasis. Of course she had, she’d lived on Luna her whole life! Then she suddenly realized what he was reminding her of, that she was now, willy-nilly, playing the role of a tourist from Earth.
Oh crap. I don’t even know my name!
Tony at least was able to help her with that when she caught up to them. “You dropped this,” he said, handing her a nametag like the one he was wearing.
“Thank you,” she said, glancing at it before attaching it to her blouse. ‘Julissa Zednanreh’. Huh. “What’s next?”
“Unfortunately, we’re pretty much out of time. Back to the hotel and packing up.”
That won’t take me long, thought Davie, hefting the LTA bag onto her back and feeling its lack of weight. She concentrated on trying to walk awkwardly, imitating the other tourists as best she could. Oddly, none of them seemed to react to the cuckoo who’d been slipped into their nest.
It was with only a small pang that Davie left the undercity that had hidden her for the past several lunars and returned to the upper reaches of Artemis City, at least the parts that the tourists were allowed into. There weren’t many vehicles in Artemis; vehicles took cubic and required even more specialized infrastructure. The few vehicles tended to be electric-powered, but were mostly restricted to official use.
For most people, tourists included, there were walkways and slideways from one end of the cubic to the other, and that’s what they used now. Davie had to admit that she quickly grew lost; for all that she was native-born, she’d spent her life in a position of privilege and only knew the bare rudiments of the city she had inhabited.
Just when she was starting to flag, Tony directed off to the left.
“Home sweet home,” he said, waving the gaggle past him towards the entrance. In big letters, the sign above the door read, ‘The Delos’. In smaller letters appeared the words, ‘A Harriman Hotel’.
“Remember, everyone, we have to be packed and ready to leave by fourteen. That’s by special arrangement with management, so don’t delay, don’t ask for more time, and don’t be late! LTA has appreciated your business, but we can’t keep you in Artemis if your visa runs out!”
“What are you gonna do, Tony, toss us out the airlock?” asked one corpulent male, shorter than Davie but probably half again her mass.
I wouldn’t joke about that, she thought. Tony answered. “No, Mr. Kollar, I wouldn’t do that, but you’d have to go through all the hoops to get a new exit visa. That’s a six-week process, minimum, and that’s assuming the Colony didn’t decide to arrest you for illegal immigration. The courts are fair and honest, but slow. You might not get your trial until next year, and by then, well, you’d be a resident, not a visitor. Gravity deficiency.”
He looked around the group, who had all turned to stare. “I wish I could say I’m joking, folks, but you really don’t want to be late to the terminal. So stop looking at me and start packing! You have a little more than an hour.” The group scattered.
“Oh, Ms. Zednanreh,” he said, as she decided she’d have to simply bull it out. “Can I walk with you to your room? I’d like to borrow that book you told me about. Not many people still bring hard copies on their vacations.”
“Certainly,” she answered, thinking, Saved again. Chattering amiably without really saying anything at all, he walked her down the corridor and to a hatch marked ‘11C’. He stood there, waiting, until she finally realized he was waiting for her to key the door open.
“Oops,” she said, trying to inject just the right note of embarrassment. She dug in her handbag, hoping that whatever would activate the hatch was in there. “Sorry, it’s been a crazy day.”
“I’ll bet,” he said, and gestured with his hand to a patch to the right of the frame. She could see the wear pattern of who knew how many hands, and mentally shrugged. Her hand would work, or it wouldn’t.
Not entirely surprisingly, it worked, and the hatch slid open. Still spouting inanities, Tony gestured for her to enter, then followed. As soon as the hatch shut, though, his chatter stopped. He took a pocket-sized device out and swept it around the room without talking. She knew enough not to ask what he was doing; obviously, he was checking for bugs. She was aware that MinSec routinely kept tourists and hotels under observation, not for any particular reason beyond institutional paranoia.
“Clear. I don’t have time, so listen and don’t ask dumb questions. You’re getting off Luna. All the wheels have been greased, and as long as you don’t give yourself away you’ll be fine.” While talking he reached into a storage cubby and pulled out a travel bag. “There’s a wig in here. Same color as your hair, but it won’t have your DNA. You can cut off your hair or try to tuck it under.”
He looked at her hair, still almost militarily-short and a rich brown. “Might not have to cut it. Microthin gloves, more like a second skin, that have fingerprints to match your ID. How are you with contacts?”
He sighed. “Forget it. Wear the glasses. The lenses are designed to distort retinal readers, just don’t take them off or you’re screwed. What’s in the bag?”
“Huh? Nothing, I don’t think.” She tugged the LTA pack from her back and opened it. “Oh.” She pulled out what looked like a traveler’s standard ID packet.
“Study that. You’ve got about an hour. I’ll come and get you when I check on everyone else.”
She asked the question that had been bothering her. “Won’t they notice me suddenly showing up? The tourists?”
He grinned. “Nope. They’re all professionals, like me. Welcome to OutLook.” He ducked out of the room before she could ask any more questions. Time to learn who she was supposed to be.