THE JETWAY WAS THINNING of passengers. Drinkwine had waited for the shuttle to empty before making his way into the terminal. Brushing past in a hurried state, disheveled by the lingering motion sickness, the Asian businessman nervously spoke to himself in his native tongue. He held his briefcase under his arm protectively, scurrying off and disappearing into the turn of the aluminum tunnel.
Opening onto the lavish first class lobby, the terminal was streaked with rays of afternoon sun pouring through the elaborate architecture of metal support beams. Most of Drinkwine’s traveling companions had already dispersed, just a few remnant passengers eyeing goods in the display cabinets of shops that lined the terminal corridor.
Gusts of wind pelted the glass walls of the terminal with lashings of sand. Man had altered Mars’ atmosphere. In so doing they had brought about significant changes evidently immune to speculation. Virtually every prediction the science community had made—with their erudition echoed by the politicians—proved to be wrong. The winds had not ceased, but in fact had proliferated. The climate had not stabilized (“reminiscent of the Mediterranean”), instead resembling the extremes of Death Valley in California, with stifling heat and bitter cold. Most perplexing was the planet slowly taking on the same gravitational properties as Earth, upsetting all the hype of Mars providing a less strenuous, and therefore, “life-extending” atmosphere. Nothing was at all like what science had promised.
As a result the marketing materials slowly excised all references to Mars being a perfect place to retire—due the reduced effort required to move about—and focused their attention on the planet’s exploitable resource: land. The marketing firms had seamlessly glided over the previous promises and were now steering the public’s interest with proposals of land ownership and attractive appreciation rates—as evidenced in the wall-to-wall advertisements that lined the terminal. Just the thing to seduce gullible humans away from the morbid realities of outlandish real estate prices on the Earth and Moon.
Waiting at the end of a run of velvet ropes, dressed in a finely tailored suit of aqua silk, a white Ascot tied neatly about his neck, stood a slight man of East Indian blood. He had a pretentious upper class mannerism of clutching his monogrammed handkerchief close to the chest. He wore large, black-rimmed glasses fitted with thick lens that magnified the beautiful almond eyes of his race.
“Mr. Drinkwine?” the little man inquired with a refined English accent (remnant of education in the now defunct United Kingdom) and a pleasant smile of perfect white teeth—implants most likely, common among the affluent. “I’m Mr. Kurian, Ambassador to the Mars colony. Welcome to Jannah.” Offering his delicate brown hand.
Drinkwine took note of the immaculately manicured and polished fingernails. The man had never used his hands for anything so much as labor in his life. Drinkwine immediately disliked him. After politely correcting him, “Detective Drinkwine,” he shook the Ambassador’s hand.
“Pardon me,” Kurian acquiesced, “but I’m curious, is Drinkwine your actual name?”
Drinkwine was accustomed to this. After all, with everything that a name like Drinkwine conjured, it was to be expected. “Yes, it is,” he came back, his eyes staying fixed on the Ambassador, waiting to see if the inquiry was to be followed by the inevitable remarks people made, believing they were being clever or original.
When the small brown man leaned in to allow him to speak in a whisper, Drinkwine was overcome with a strong dose of cologne. Kurian raised the handkerchief effeminately to his cheek, like a gossiping woman in a salon, “When I saw the manifest I thought, being an official police investigation, perhaps it was a code name.” Kurian seemed to enjoy the notion of intrigue and giggled girlishly, stifling his laugh with the handkerchief.
“Family name,” Drinkwine said curtly.
“My driver is waiting,” Kurian offered with an efficiency of nature, “we’ll take you to get settled into your room at the Science Center,” adding with an approving turn of the head, “a very nice room.”
“Ambassador,” Drinkwine responded, leveling his gaze, “I’d prefer to get started immediately.”
The tone surprised Kurian, absently slowing him in his stride, as if this simple change in his plans confused things. “I’ve made the journey several times, Detective,” Kurian said, arm still poised demurely with the handkerchief. “Surely you must be tired. Why not rest?”
“I’ve done nothing but rest for six weeks,” Drinkwine spoke with simmering agitation. “They said you would clear my service weapon without any delay.”
Again Kurian seemed put off balance, unaccustomed to being addressed in this manner—especially by a white. “Yes,” he came back after a long pause, as if assessing how each turn of word now would set the foundation for their future relationship. He finished his thought, his surprised almond eyes made all the more large by the lens of his glasses, “all arranged, just as soon as it is removed from the cargo hold of the shuttle.”
Drinkwine stared at the Ambassador, intimidating the little man. Kurian turned on his heel and began to walk the polished tile floor, Drinkwine stepping in alongside.
“Where do you want to go?” Kurian asked uneasily, as if Drinkwine’s request was an inconvenience.
“To see the body,” Drinkwine answered, the aluminum brief, the cartons of Hollands and his small suitcase in hand, walking with urgency, “then the location where the body was found.”
“Well, to get out there you need a rover,” Kurian said absently.
“A request for a rover was put in weeks ago by the department,” Drinkwine asserted, “to be made available upon my arrival.”
“Yes, well,” the Ambassador came back flippantly, “since that time the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia has arrived for a wedding. All available rovers have been procured for them and their family’s needs.”
Drinkwine stopped dead in his tracks. When Kurian stopped, the detective spoke with an authority that further troubled the already beleaguered Ambassador. “That needs to be rectified. This is official business.”
Kurian cocked his head slightly, regarding the stranger—a prominent official from Earth arrived to conduct an investigation—as if trying to find cracks in an otherwise perfect façade. “I’ll see to it.”
They were interrupted by a uniformed, Middle Eastern security guard carrying a small strongbox. The officer was slight in physique, his perfectly pressed uniform two sizes too large for him. He studied Drinkwine with uncertainty. Kurian spoke to the man in Urdu. Drinkwine caught only fleeting words in the rapid-fire exchange. The officer wanted to make sure that the Ambassador had the approval of handing over the weapon to a white. Bits and pieces of the exchange ascertained that Kurian was putting the officer at ease, assuring him that; Yes, the gun was to be handed over to this white man. With trepidation the officer unlocked the door to a small office, turning for final approval from Kurian, who reassured with a nod of the head.
The three men entered the small station room, locking the door behind. The officer then unlocked the strongbox revealing a service handgun and a well-used leather shoulder holster. The officer handed it over to Kurian, who, acting as if it might soil his hands, quickly handed it to Drinkwine. The detective took the handgun, adeptly turning the battery-powered weapon on to check its charge. The needle was just touching the lower portion of the green scale. Removing his linen jacket, Drinkwine donned the shoulder holster, drawing the straps snug against his aging body, sliding the weapon in and securing it. The holster was old school, but Drinkwine had gotten used to it, the same way he’d gotten used to a lot of now defunct aspects of his work. He often wondered if he was too sentimental for this job.
Kurian and the officer watched as Drinkwine pulled his jacket on, smoothing the fine linen over the slight bulge of holster to help conceal it. He met eyes with the two men who were still marveling at the rare sight of a weapon.
“Shall we?” Drinkwine proffered, to snap them out of their trance.