Murder Beyond The Milky Way

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Chapter Nineteen


Harry walked back to the main road that circled the central core of buildings that surrounded the terraforming plant. He hopped on the first cable-car that ran passed. It didn’t matter the direction. He was more interested in exploring Nova-3. He hadn’t paid much attention to the city on the way to the central core.

It didn’t take him long to figure out how the cable-cars ran and how they were numbered (odd circling east to west; even west to east). Each cable-car would make one complete circuit of whatever circle they were on and then descend through the adjoining jungle section to the next road; make a complete circuit on it then drop down to the next circle and so on until they reached the outermost passage which would take them along the green sward that bordered the edge of the LifeShield.

The public cable-cars were open-sided vehicles with running boards and hand grips and interior seats with added standing room between them. They were crowded with hard-looking men and a woman or two and Harry had to jostle for a place to stand. He wasn’t comfortable being in such close contact with the general mass of people. His position with the Directorate had always allowed him to remain somewhat aloof and distant. But, here, in Nova-3 he quickly realized that to everyone else, he was just another cog in the machine that moved the red-ore from the toxic exterior of Magnum-4 to the rest of human occupied space. On Earth Prime, he was special... marginally special, but special none the less. Here, at the farthest extent of inhabited space, he was...

Harry suddenly realized that he didn’t know what he was. Then it hit him... he was whatever he wanted himself to be. Out here, he was a blank screen. He could write anything he wanted on it. He could morph into whomever he had dreamed himself to be. The realization released a flood of emotions. The possibilities were... Harry found that he couldn’t even conceive of them all. Harry thought back on his conversation with Allyson and he did something that he never would have done on Earth Prime. He turned to the person on his immediate right, an older man whose muscles stretched the shoulders of his khaki coveralls, and said, “I’m new here. Can you tell me what all these buildings are?”

Harry could not have chosen a better way to introduce himself. He had identified himself as one of them and someone who needed to be brought up to speed. Everyone in his immediate area filled him in on what he was looking at. He learned that the terraforming plant was in the exact center of the dome. Abutting the plant on the north side was the pleasure section. There were casinos, brothels and various places to get a meal. The mines’ warehouses were located on the east and west side of the plant. (Lehman’s office was on the west.) Governmental offices, such as they were, and mine headquarters were located to the south.

The workers residences occupied the next living circle beyond the first jungle greenway. Harry saw tenement-style buildings packed closely together in order to accommodate the largest number of people in the smallest area. Despite the density, no building was more than three stories high in order to allow for proper air circulation. Beyond the next greenway, Harry found good-looking townhouses interspaced with up-scale apartment-type houses. Beyond the next greenway was another living circle only higher up on the economic scale and so on until he came to the final greenway.

This final jungle section hugged the inside of the LifeShield. There were seven access stations cut into it: the six for the shuttles to the mines and the terminal through which Harry had arrived. The Terminal was cut into the east wall. Steve Somerset’s home was erected in the northeast quadrant in the lush area between the Main Terminal and the terminal to Mine-3. It was the only private residence on the outer most circle.

When Harry arrived back at Steve Somerset’s estate, he found Lydia standing on the back patio overlooking the spot where she had found Steve’s body. She was standing with her hands resting on the rail staring out into the red expanse of the planet.

“I’m having trouble getting used to all this red,” Harry said walking softly up behind her.

“It grows on you,” Lydia said.

“Is that why you stayed?”

“When you get to my age, sometimes you need a place where you can put things into perspective.”

“What do you do out here?” Harry asked.

“Think.”

“Think?”

“There’s an ancient story from Earth Prime that recounts how the world grew so complicated that it took only the most unqualified people to run it.”

“How can unqualified people run anything?” Harry asked.

“Because they never had to do anything,” Lydia said. “The world was, in fact, running itself without them. All they had to do was sit there and press buttons. It didn’t matter which buttons they pushed because with so many probable outcomes, any button they pushed was always the right one. Therefore, they really didn’t have to be qualified to do anything. The real power rested with a lone individual sitting in a lonely house at the farthest reaches of the universe. All he did was think. And every so often, someone would come out to find out what he thought about. In the entire universe, his were the only thoughts that mattered.”

“And that’s how you see yourself?”

“My ego is not that big, but tell me, Mr. Salem, back on Earth Prime, did you really DO anything?”

“Of course I did.”

“What?”

“I monitored the shipment of various supplies and raw materials between the harvesting planets and the processing ones making sure that the correct amounts were sent to the proper end users.”

“And you are the only person in the universe who could have done that?”

“No, of course not.”

“That’s my point. You are either one of the most singularly untalented human beings anyone has ever known or you are you are being used far beneath your level of intelligence.”

“I’d like to think that I am being used beneath my level.”

“A sense of self worth. I like that.” Lydia turned and walked back into the house. Harry followed. “So, tell me what happened.”

Harry told her about their meeting with the Lehmans. He didn’t tell her about going back to talk to Allyson alone.

“Well it wouldn’t surprise me if the Lehmans had something to do with Steve’s death,” Lydia said. “I ran a background check on the family while you were out.”

“What did you find out?”

“I learned that Mr. Lehman came here twenty-two years ago. He was originally assigned to Mine-5 as a planner. He made a reputation among the workers as being someone who was not afraid to order things that other people might frown upon. When men from other mines began going to him, the mine owners thought it would be a good idea to have someone whom they could monitor importing things that might be considered ‘contraband’.”

“Why couldn’t that have been handled through the Recreation Center?” Harry asked.

“Originally it was, but the miners grew wary of using an entity so close to the central authority.”

“Was what he was importing all that illegal?” Harry asked.

“That all depends on how you define ‘illegal’,” Lydia answered. “Mostly it involved things that people liked to protect their privacy on. I guess there are some big, burly miners who don’t want their co-workers to know that they are wearing feminine undergarments.”

“What is it the instructors at the Directorate say, ‘Image. Image. Image.’”

“That’s a good adage to remember, Mr. Salem,” Lydia said. “You might say that the Directorate lives by it.”

“So, what image are you trying to protect?” Harry asked.

“Isn’t that why you are here?” Lydia responded. “To find out for the others on Earth Prime.”

“I’ve only been here a couple of hours and, to tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here or why I was sent.”

“Speaking of being sent, I thought I sent you to keep Quincey company.”

Before Harry could think up a good lie to tell her, Quincey opened the front door and came walking down the hallway. “Good, you’re here,” he said as he turned the corner to the living room.

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