Murder Beyond The Milky Way

By EricRuark All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Mystery

Chapter Twenty-Seven


Harry left the Somerset estate and caught the first public cable-car heading towards the inner circles. It was far more crowded than he had anticipated, and he had to stand most of the way. Feigning ennui, he eavesdropped on the conversations taking place around him and pieced together various snippets of information. Unloading cargo from a freighter and then uploading the red-ore was a four or five day event that the locals treated as a reoccurring holiday. The freighter disrupted their normal daily activities. Working in the warehouses took precedence over working in the mines. There was a lot of down time between shuttles. The locals used that down time to rest, go to the public access areas of the greenways and, in general, have fun. At first Harry wondered how much “fun” anyone could have on a planet with a toxic atmosphere where all living was confined to a central life supported area and six satellite domes, but from what he overheard, apparently the people on Magnum-4 found even riding around in circles on public transport to be incredibly entertaining. I suppose when there’s nothing to do, doing something is better than doing nothing, Harry thought.

Harry was more than willing to be morose and down at the mouth. After all, Magnum-4 was hardly Earth Prime. Hell, it wasn’t even Emerson-5. However, he found the people’s good humor to be slightly infectious and, before long, he found himself smiling at the stories and comments that he wasn’t supposed to be listening to. Everyone seemed to know which shuttles were in the air and which were on the ground. There was also some kind of lottery as to which mine would have all their materiel downloaded and their share of the red-ore uploaded first. There was also a running argument between several men on the cable-car over which mine had the best flyers which made Harry wonder how bored everyone really was since loading and unloading a shuttle and docking it to a freighter hardly required any skill at all. However, it did get him thinking about the logistics of moving all the materiel on to and off of the planet.

He hadn’t really been paying all that much attention to what was going on, but he had noticed that although he had seen a lot of people moving around, he had not seen a lot of product. It was obviously going somewhere. It wasn’t coming to the main dome. Harry couldn’t imagine them shipping everything to the individual mining domes, but there was no other conclusion. The more he thought about it, the more logical it appeared. Everything, except for what Lehman ordered, was ordered through a mine. When the freighters were laded, each mine’s order was processed as a unit. Therefore, each mine would be off-loading their order separate from the others which would account for the betting as to which mine would unload first. But the warehouses were centrally located in Nova-3. Why not warehouse the merchandise at the unloading site? To Harry’s Directorate trained mind, this was totally inefficient.

As his cable-car worked its way towards the innermost circle, Harry decided to take his questions to Allyson. He wanted to see her again, and this would provide the perfect excuse. He couldn’t get the blue-blackness of her hair, her piercingly blue eyes and the delicate oval shape of her face out of his mind. He was beginning to view her as the paradigm against which he compared all the other women he had ever known.

When he arrived at the Lehman office, there were several men picking up and dropping off invoice chips at the main desk. No one was attending them, they seemed to know where to go and which pile of invoice chips to pick up from or lay down on. On the other side of the counter, Harry found Allyson trying to explain the cross-referencing program he had set up for her the previous day to her brother. Her brother was obviously having a hard time getting his mind around something that Harry considered entry level labor. He was about to say something pithy, but the moment they saw him, they stopped doing what they were doing, and the brother stepped behind his sister as if she were a shield.

“So what brings you back here?” Allyson asked. Her tone was cold and allusive and defensive as if she expected Harry to accuse them of something.

Harry was taken aback. They were physically afraid of him. Then, he realized that they considered him ‘Vigilance Committee’ and, as such, he could simply kill the two of them and walk away. No one would dare say a word. It was a power card he was unwilling to play, especially with Allyson. Harry smiled and tried to ooze all the charm he possessed. The last thing he wanted was for her to be afraid of him. “I have some questions about how this place operates and I thought you were the best person to ask,” he said.

“I thought I told you how we work,” Allyson said. She turned and looked at her brother and then looked back at Harry.

“No, not you personally, this planet,” Harry said. “If the freighter is unloading, where is all the merchandise?”

“Oh, that’s still out at the mine hubs,” Allyson said. She gave her brother a subtle nudge in the ribs, and he slowly backed away from her and nonchalantly made his way to the opposite end of the room.

“Out there?” Harry gestured behind him as if he actually knew what he was pointing at.

“Yes. The designers decided not to risk having too many openings in the Nova-3 LifeShield for safety reasons. Except for the small personnel shuttles, like the one we came down on yesterday, everything on a freighter is off-loaded and shuttled down to the ordering mine’s dome over the horizon. That way, if something goes wrong, their dome can be sealed and none of the toxic atmosphere will threaten the main dome.”

“So why don’t they leave everything at the mining domes? Since everything is ordered in the mine’s name and all the laborers get their supplies from the mine store, why bring everything back here? Seems like a lot of wasted energy.”

“That’s also done for safety reasons,” Allyson explained. “Say every mine did keep all their supplies at the mine domes, what would happen if something catastrophic happened to one of them? Most of the people would survive because they have to wear safety gear, but the toxic atmosphere would contaminate everything and all the supplies would be lost. Then, all the other mines would have to give up a sixth of their supplies to make up for the loss. You’d have everyone on short rations until the new supply ship reached here. People on short rations can’t work efficiently. Red-ore production would be jeopardized which would affect our ability to order more food since we would not only have to make up for the lost materiel in the destroyed dome, but all the supplies siphoned off from the other domes.”

“Has that ever happened?”

“No. Over the years we have had accidents at the mine domes, but this whole place was planned out well before the first supply freighter brought the first piece of the terraforming unit out here.”

Harry smiled. His bureaucratic brain was working in overtime. The mining of Magnum-4 was not an arbitrary happenstance of eclectic frontier explorers happening on a planet of untold wealth and working out the logistics of harvesting it. This was a well thought out, preplanned program, the kind of thing that the Directorate was so good at. And yet, this place was hardly even a blip on their intragalactic radar.

“Look, Ali, I didn’t mean to scare you just now,” Harry said. “I know I’m a stranger and all...”

“You’re Vigilance,” Allyson said.

“No, I’m not,” Harry protested.

“Yes, you are,” she affirmed. “You’re not only Vigilance, you’re also Directorate.”

“It sounds like you’ve been talking about me,” Harry said laughingly trying to brush it off.

“Of course we’ve been talking about you,” Allyson said. “Half of Nova-3 has been talking about you.”

“What have I done?” Harry asked.

“It’s what you’re going to do that has everyone scared,” Allyson said.

“And just what does ‘everyone’ think I’m going to do?” Harry asked.

“Take us over,” Allyson said.

“Excuse me?”

“Well, you’re Directorate. Lydia Thompson is Directorate. Steve Somerset is dead. What’s to stop you from ordering the First Space Cavalry to embargo our supply ships to starve us out?”

Harry laughed. “Okay, your collective imaginations are seriously running overtime. First of all, the Directorate barely knows of your existence. They think that you are a bunch of grubbing miners on a rock out in the nowhere reaches of the galaxy. They have absolutely no idea of the extent of your red-ore deposit and, at the moment, no one is telling them. And even if someone did, they are choosing, in their infinite wisdom, to ignore it. (I think Lydia has something to do with that.) And what does Steve Somerset’s death have to do with it?”

Allyson smiled sheepishly. “Everyone thinks that he had some kind of power over her... Lydia, that is... that she was so in love with him that she would use all of her Directorate power to do whatever he wanted.”

“Okay, now I know what people on an isolated planet do in their spare time,” Harry said.

“What?”

“They sit around and make up the most ludicrous stories about other people whom they know nothing about.”

“You can’t tell me that she’s not in love with him,” Allyson said.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I’ve only known the woman for one day and she hasn’t revealed her deepest, darkest secrets to me, yet. Maybe by tomorrow...”

Allyson laughed. Harry laughed. Allyson’s brother looked up alarmed from his seat on the other side of the room.

“So, what are you going to do now?” Allyson asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I thought I’d take a look at how the mining operation runs.”

“Then... can you do a favor for me?” Allyson asked.

“It would be my pleasure,” Harry said.

“Good. The shuttle pilots have been flying all night and all of our merchandise was off loaded at Mine-6. It’s kind of a last loaded/first off kind of thing. We normally have the smallest order so it’s usually loaded into the last container. Most of it’s accounted for. But we’re missing some little pieces. I was going to send fat head...” she nodded towards her brother “... out to the mine to try to track down the missing articles, but if you went for me, the guys at the mine head would be too terrified of you to give you the kind of grief they would give him.”

“So suddenly I’m notLydia’s man; I’m yours?”

“You can’t imagine the bull crap that we have to go through sometimes to get our supplies,” Allyson said. “If you went out there for us it would shake things up a little... and things need to get shaken up every now and again.”

“Okay,” Harry said. “I understand that some people aren’t too happy having you operate independently out here.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Allyson said. “I would be very grateful if you could help us out.”

“Never let it be said that Harry Salem didn’t stir the pot whether it needed it or not. Give me the invoice of the missing items.”

Allyson ran over to the desk to which her brother had retreated and grabbed an invoice chip off a pile next to him. She ran back to Harry smiling and handed him the chip.

Harry took the chip with a smile and tried not to think of how stupid he was being.

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