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Murder Beyond The Milky Way

By EricRuark All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Mystery

Chapter Sixteen


Although he tried to remain blasé about the events as they were transpiring around him, Harry found himself strangely drawn to the situation. Back on Earth Prime he lived a regimented life. There was work; there were one or two women; and there were the usual entertainments that junior members of the Directorate were encouraged and expected to attend. At 9 a.m. Monday morning (every Monday morning) he knew exactly where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do. The same was true for every Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday morning and so on. If someone had asked him where he was going to be three months in advance, all he had to do was thumb the calendar in his PCD to life and he could tell them.

Harry chuckled. Suddenly, for the first time in his life, he had been thrust into a situation that upset all of his well-thought out plans. Sitting in the cable-car, if someone were to ask him where he was going to be in the next hour, he wouldn’t have been able to tell them. And for Harry, that was a totally unique experience.

Harry felt the cable-car come to a stop. He opened his eyes and sat up. “Are we there, yet?” he asked.

“Hardly,” Quincey answered. “We’re at a round. We have to change direction and head through the greenway and work our way up to the central living circle.”

Harry watched the gripman climb out of the cable car and put his shoulder against the front of the vehicle. The car began to rotate to a direction 90 degrees from the one in which they had just traveled. Harry looked forward and realized they were about to head straight into the jungle. He looked at Quincey and his expression must have said it all.

“You can’t see them from the air, because of the green canopy, but there are cable-car routes through the greenways that connect each of the living circles,” Quincey explained.

“Where exactly are we headed?” Harry asked.

“To the innermost circle, the one surrounding the Terraforming plant,” Quincey said. “Everything starts from there. The plant is located in the exact center of the city. It produces the energy that holds up the LifeShield and supplies everyone with the energy to power all the individual living quarters.”

“Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the terraforming plant isn’t doing much terraforming on the rest of the planet,” Harry said.

Quincey smiled. “I’m surprised you picked up on that so quickly,” he said.

“It’s not hard to notice,” Harry said. “If you were serious about terraforming this planet, you would have more than one major terraforming plant and six satellite ones. You would need at least one at each pole and then a relay of plants belting the planet’s equator. What have you got here? One plant located in the planet’s northern hemisphere and then six smaller ones located at 10/12/2 and 4/6/8 in relation to it. The last thing you are doing here is terraforming this place.”

“You’re right. We’re mining it,” Quincey said. “By the time we’re done, there wont be anything left of Magnum-4. We intend to strip this place right down to it’s nickel core and then when that cools, mine that, too.”

“How long do you think that will take?” Harry asked.

“Four or five Youth Treatments, if I plan to live to see the end of it all,” Quincey answered.

“So then, this whole terraforming thing is a front,” Harry said.

“Appears so,” Quincey said.

“So how do you keep the secret?” Harry asked.

“Mutual greed,” Quincey said. “Everyone who comes here realizes that if they play ball, they will end up with more wealth than the human mind can possibly comprehend. That goes from the mine owners right down to the man who scrubs the human waste disposal containers.”

“So, you limit the people who have access to the planet and you don’t allow anyone to leave.”

“People are allowed to leave. But, for the most part, no one wants to. Those that do, leave with so much wealth at their disposal, that the secret is totally safe.”

“Then why the ‘Vigilance Committee’?” Harry asked.

“There’s probably close to a fifty thousand people in this dome. Throw that many people together and some crime has to break out. But, in a closed society with no place to dispose of the malcontents, crime is like a cancer that has to be cut out. The Vigilance Committee merely does the cutting. So far, no one has complained.”

“...and lived to tell about it,” Harry quipped.

“It might not be the best of all worlds, but it works for us out here,” Quincey said.

“I’ve been hearing that a lot, lately,” Harry said. Harry sat up and turned to Quincey.

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Get fifty thousand people to keep your secret.”

“We don’t. You do.”

“Me?”

“The Directorate and the other members who control corporate space,” Quincey said. “You have people pigeon-holed into their respective jobs and lives based on your corporate criteria. They go about living their lives knowing what they will be doing from day to day, week to week, knowing that that’s all there is. They will live and they will die and depending on their station in life, they will have a modicum of comfort. We take your rejects and all we ask is that they keep our secret, and if they do, they will end up with more wealth than they can ever imagine.”

Harry thought for a moment and the phrase “quiet desperation” came to mind. He wondered where he had heard it? Then, he remembered. It was in a training class on how to control the workers assigned to whatever task he was in charge of. He remembered his instructor saying, “You must always keep you workers in a state just above what we call ‘quiet desperation’. That way they will remain content with their lives, their jobs and anything else that you want them to do. They must never fall into a state of real desperation because if they do, that’s when they will decide to react. And the one thing you don’t want is an entire class of people negatively reacting to whatever you are trying to get them to do.” Harry smiled. Magnum-4 was a place that he could understand: people will do anything if the reward is great enough. He leaned back in his seat. “So, who are we going to terrorize?” he asked.

“Question,” Quincey said.

“Whatever,” Harry quipped.

Quincey took out Lydia’s PCD and tossed it to Harry. “From what I can tell,” Quincey said, “Steve made a couple of appointments on the night he died using Lydia’s PCD. Apparently, Karen Lehman wanted to see him, and he confirmed a time very close to when he was killed.”

“And who is this Lehman person?” Harry asked.

“She runs a supply company up on the inner circle near the Terraforming plant. Her husband specialized in obtaining things that the miners didn’t want coming through the normal channels and being placed on the company store shelves for everyone to see. Steve ordered everything through Lehman’s company. He didn’t want the mine owners knowing what he was ordering.”

“Do a lot of people want things that they would be ashamed of if others found out?” Harry asked.

“Enough to keep her in business,” Quincey said.

“And how does she pay for it?”

“That’s handled through Central,” Quincey said. “She puts everything she needs down on one manifest, from food to whatever and Central sends the request out to our emissary on Emerson-5. From there, the requests are sent out to the various suppliers and then all merchandise, food and whatnots are assembled and loaded on to a freighter bound for us.”

“You would need a sizable location to do that,” Harry said. Quincey was talking Harry’s game. It’s what he did at the Directorate. He oversaw and documented the movement of various commodities around Directorate space.

“We have our own facility on Emerson-5 and own 51% of the space station being built over the north pole there,” Quincey said.

“You seem to know a awful lot about what’s going on here,” Harry said.

“It’s common knowledge,” Quincey said. “Everyone is in the loop. That way there are no secrets that will breed trouble.”

“Well, apparently this Steve fellow had a secret or two that got him killed,” Harry said.

“So it seems,” Quincey answered.

“By the way is there a Mr. Lehman?”

“There was,” Quincey said. “He was killed about five years ago. Some said it was over a disputed gambling debt with Turgenev who runs the Rest & Recreation facilities, but no one was ever brought to justice.”

“Was Turgenev investigated?”

“He’s Vigilance Committee.”

“And that makes him above the law?”

“Pretty much so without irrefutably hard evidence.”

The cable-car started moving again. They entered the greenway. Harry looked out the window and saw a veritable jungle of vegetation. On either side of the through passage, a profusion of leaves seemed to make a solid wall of greens. There was bright green, emerald green, deep forest green, every leaf filled with chlorophyll and invisibly sucking in the CO2­­ missed by the terraforming air purifiers and giving off O2 in its place.

Harry didn’t understand the process of photosynthesis. He knew that sunlight and carbon dioxide was somehow turned into oxygen. He knew that on Earth Prime as more and more space had been used for buildings, that huge swaths of the oceans had been cultivated with algae to make up for the loss in oxygen producing plants on the land. Earth Prime’s animals and plants had been moved to other planets that had been terraformed specifically to meet their needs. One planet’s loss had been another’s gain.

In his office surrounded by his work screens, Harry hadn’t really thought much about where his steak came from, only whether he was going to have it with a light red wine or something stronger. He could care less that it was raised on one planet, shipped to another, slaughtered and processed on a third, then shipped to Earth Prime. To him, his steak was merely the end product of a series of merchandise movements that he religiously tracked and recorded.

Harry had a lot of time to think. With the cable-car as their sole means of transportation, no one went anywhere quickly in Nova-3. Watching the dense mass of vegetation pass his window, Harry realized that Magnum-4 and Earth Prime were a lot alike in some respects. Everything had to be imported, regulated, allotted. The only difference was in who was doing the allotting? He also noticed the differences in living standards the closer they got to the center ring.

Harry assumed that the outer-most living ring was for the rich. It’s where Steve Somerset’s estate was located, right up next to the LifeShield with an unobstructed view of the planet beyond. As they moved closer and closer to the center of the city, the living rings became more crowded until at the center, shoulder to jowl with the terraforming plant, the inner city of Nova-3 looked like the packed-in tenement section of any city, only cleaner. Harry pointed that out to Quincey.

“I’m surprised that everyone isn’t trying to live in one of the mansions on the outer rim,” he said.

“People live where they are most comfortable,” Quincey answered. “It happens that when a newcomer first gets here, they grab for a place that’s two or three steps above what they were used to. Eventually, and it doesn’t take that long, they give up their affectations and move back to a level where they are more comfortable. Some people are happy with a one room flat knowing that they will be rich when they leave. Others, like to have a certain amount amenities in the now.”

People setting their own standards about how and where they lived... Harry had a tough time getting his mind around that concept.

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