When Harry Salem awoke the next morning, he found himself in a strange bed. It was not his own bed, but it was a comfortable bed... a very comfortable bed. It was soft and warm and hugged his body in the most inviting way. He didn’t want to get out of it. From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, he was the most relaxed he had been in weeks. All the tension from all the travel had drained out of him. He rolled over and looked around. Nothing looked familiar and for a moment, Harry Salem didn’t know where he was.
Harry sat up and threw his legs over the side of the bed. Suddenly, he was very woozy. The room was warm and filled with a red glow that came through the light curtains that covered the floor to ceiling Plexilum wall that faced the foot of his bed. He was naked, but he did not remember taking off his clothes. He looked around and spotted them on top of a low bureau across the room right next to his open travel case. Where was he? Steve Somerset’s house. The red glow must be coming from the reflection of the sun off the red-ore on the other side of the LifeShield.
Harry stood up and walked over to the wall through which all the light was coming. He pulled the curtains back. There was a door. He pushed it and it noiselessly opened on to a small balcony. He stepped out. He took a deep breath. The magnitude of the conflicting aromas made him gag. He fought the reflex. It was hot. His body immediately began to perspire. His balcony faced the LifeShield. The jungle came practically right up to the edge of the house. There was only a small walkway between the green wall of vegetation and his building. A breeze came wafting in from his right cooling him and rustling the leaves all across the canopy that separated him from the edge of the inside of the dome.
Harry ran is fingers through his hair and tried to shake out some of the cobwebs from last night. He remembered being hungry and eating the peanut butter bars that Quincey had told him were in the armrest in the chair in the cable-car. He remembered the rush of vitality and he also remembered that Quincey said he would crash quickly whenever what was in them wore off. He remembered going through the shipping files in Keith’s office. He remembered meeting Diana and being totally smitten with her. He remembered the touch of her hand and her invitation to return. He also remembered Quincey practically ordering him to return to find out why she had been lying to them. He remembered following Quincey out of Trugenev’s R&R facility. He remembered climbing into their private cable-car. He remembered sitting down. But that was it. From then on everything else was a blank.
Harry breathed in the excessively aromatic air. Obviously, he had returned to the estate in one piece. Harry scratched his head and went back into his room. He needed to find a bathroom to relieve his bladder and get cleaned up. There were only three doors to his room, and he chose the right one of the first try. But he wasn’t prepared for what he found.
Whereas the sleeping section of his quarters had been rather Spartan with only the bed and some dressers, the bathroom was a veritable hot house of plants, and it was open to the outside. There was a large sink area, well lit and with a large mirror. To the right of the sink area was another door. Harry opened it and found a private water closet. Across from the sink was the shower which was open to the outdoors. Harry was unsure of himself until he realized that there was no way anyone could spy on him. The jungle was too thick and the LifeShield too far away. Someone would have to be in a hovercraft with a strong pair of binoculars and Harry couldn’t think of anyone who would want to see his naked body that badly.
Harry walked over to the shower where he found several kinds of scented soaps and a scrub brush. He took a long, hot shower and scrubbed himself hard to get rid of any semblance of the days of space travel when he had been uncomfortably confined in that second skin of a pressure suit. Even though open to the air, the room was steaming by the time Harry finished. Shaved, showered and feeling totally refreshed, he dressed and then made his way out of the guest quarters, through the kitchen with its strange array of antique cooking utensils and entered the dining room. Well, he assumed it was the dining room. The table in the center of the room was loaded with bowls of fresh fruits, and a number plates filled with various meats and eggs, some scrambled, some boiled, some covered in different sauces. Lydia was sitting at the far end of the table slowly opening a long orange fruit with a small paring knife.
“You’re awake, I see,” she said. “Help yourself to some food.”
Harry prepared himself a big plate of eggs, meat and grapes and then sat down in the chair to her immediate right. “Where did all this come from?” he asked. It was an obvious question since the kitchen was still in pristine condition.
“Jane had it delivered, this morning,” Lydia said.
“In one way she is not her father’s daughter,” Lydia said. “The first thing she did last night was to arrange for a domestic work crew to make sure that we were fed and that the house would be taken care of. So, if you see a stranger or two wander through now and again, it’s perfectly normal.”
“I take it you’re not worried about security,” Harry said.
“She’s not,” Lydia answered. “She’s a child of Nova-3. She’s been here almost all her life. What would make us cringe on Earth Prime or on a dozen or more other planets, doesn’t even phase her out here.”
“What about you?” Harry asked before helping himself to a mouthful of eggs with the most delicious butter sauce he had ever tasted.
“What about me,” Lydia responded. “I’m in no danger out here. After all, the only person who might pose a threat to me is you and, at the moment, your interests and mine are the same.”
Harry swallowed. “Think so?”
“I know so,” Lydia said. “Your assignment is to make me go back to Earth Prime. I’m not leaving until we find Steve’s murderer. Ergo, you have to help me if you want to succeed with what you’ve been ordered to do.”
“So, you’re planning on returning?” Harry asked while nonchalantly cutting into some breakfast meat.
“I’ll go anywhere it suits me provided it satisfies my purposes,” Lydia said slicing off a piece of the orange meat from the fruit that Harry could not identify and eating it with precise, measured movements. “So,” she said after a moment, “tell me about last night.”
“Quincey didn’t fill you in?”
“It was late when he carried you in. I was sleeping.”
“Then, how did you know he ‘carried’ me?” Harry continued eating without looking at her.
Lydia put the paring knife down on the table. She stared at Harry who continued to devote his attention to the food in front of him. “Quincey was right. There’s more to you than meets the eye,” she said. She picked up the paring knife and began slicing into the fruit again. “He told me his version. I want to hear yours.”
“You don’t trust Quincey?”
“It’s not a matter of trust. Two people can see the same incident and have two different versions of what they saw. The truth is in the details.”
“Okay.” Harry told her everything from eating the peanut butter bars to what they found at Nova-3 Central to their meeting with Diana. Harry was as detailed as he could be. He even told her his impression of Turgenev, Harlas and Rohl. “That’s not a clique I’d particularly want to go up against.”
“Why do you say that?” Lydia asked.
“You’ve read my file. You know I’m the product of the Directorate’s private education system. In our schools, there were two ways to get things done: the establishment way, and then there was the anti-establishment way.”
“If the students had a presence in the Dean’s office, the Business office and the Communications center, and the three of them worked together, they could circumvent any of the prohibitive regulations that the Directorate liked to saddle them with.”
“Am I hearing the confession of a rebellious nature?” Lydia asked smiling.
“No. A business nature,” Harry answered. “I think it’s interesting that a mine owner, the flight controller and the head of the R&R facility are so friendly.”
“You’ve hardly been here a day. How could you come to any conclusions?”
“Quincey said that Harlas didn’t attend your meeting with the other mine owners.”
“Why not? It would seem to me that his interests ought to be aligned with theirs. But since he didn’t attend, they are obviously not. If they are not aligned with theirs, what alignment could he have with Turgenev who doesn’t own any mining interest and with Rohl who controls all movement on or off the planet?” Harry helped himself to more food.
“I can see why the powers-that-be assigned you to try to get me back to Earth Prime,” Lydia said.
“Also, Quincey had me go through all that digital information last night. My mind is still processing it. Mr. Somerset sent messages on a prescribed schedule. Why and to whom? What was the point of the log book he wanted me to get? Who’s got it now?”
“Steve did say that Rohl owed him a favor.”
“He never said.”
“Is Trugenev involved with that favor?”
“I don’t know.”
“They obviously had some business dealings. He had to arrange with Turgenev for Diana’s services.” Harry looked up.“ Is that a sore point with you?”
“No,” Lydia answered. “I never asked Steve to give her up. He did that on his own. He was not a man to divide his loyalties. He was either with you or he wasn’t.”
“No middle ground.”
Harry pushed himself away from the table. “Where’s Quincey?”
“At home, I suppose,” Lydia answered. “Why? What do you intend to do?”
“Look around some more,” Harry said. “I’ve never seen a place like this. I need to understand how it works.” Harry stood up and started to walk out of the room.
“We clean up after ourselves, here.” Lydia pointed to his dirty plate and then to a container in the corner of the room.
Harry smiled and did as he was told. How barbaric, he thought.