Murder Beyond The Milky Way

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Chapter Thirty

Huntington walked over to Harry. “Good to see you again,” he said extending his hand.

Harry reached out expecting the firm handshake of the frontier. He was pleasantly surprised to receive the limp greeting of Earth Prime.

“I hear you’ve made quite the splash on this hunk of rock,” Huntington said. “Hardly here a day and you’re already on the Vigilance Committee.” As he spoke, Huntington turned his head towards O’Malley. The big man’s eyes flickered quickly between Huntington and Harry then looked down at the keyboard in front of him. Huntington smiled then turned back to Harry. “Walk with me,” he said.

“I think I ought to make sure that those lost supplies are found,” Harry said.

“Oh, they will be,” Huntington said. “Won’t they.” It was not a question, but an order directed at O’Malley.

“Yes, sir,” O’Malley said.

Huntington took Harry by the arm and steered him out into the hall. Once the door had closed behind them he said, “You won’t have to worry about those lost supplies. That big slob in there will be too afraid NOT to find them.”

“You seem to carry a lot of weight, yourself,” Harry said.

“Me?... No. That big oaf back there is terrified of YOU,” Huntington said.

“You really think so?”

“All I had to do was mention ‘Vigilance’ and then wait to see if he wet his pants or not. You’ve made some powerful friends since you landed. More powerful than I think you realize,” Huntington said.

“You look like you’re doing okay, yourself,” Harry said.

“I’m doing what I’m getting paid to do,” Huntington said.

“I only know of one other person who dresses like that,” Harry said.

“So I hear,” Huntington said. They started walking down the hall to the main entrance. “You could do me a big favor, if you have a mind to.”

“All depends on what it is,” Harry said.

“I want to meet Quincey,” Huntington said.

“That’s not hard,” Harry said. “All you have to do is take a cable-car out to Steve Somerset’s estate on the outer circle and knock on the front door. If he’s not there, then someone there ought to know where he is.”

“Not a good idea,” Huntington said. “You don’t brace the tiger in his den. I need neutral ground with a neutral party acting as the go-between.”

“What is this?” Harry asked.

“Call it protocol,” Huntington said. “It’s what men like me and Quincey do for each other out of mutual respect.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you,” Harry said.

“Deadly,” Huntington answered.

“Why would Harlas hire you?” Harry asked.

“I don’t work for Harlas,” Huntington said. “I work for Turgenev.”

“I’ve met him,” Harry said.

“I know,” Huntington said. “That’s how come I know the company you keep.”

Harry stopped and took a long look at Huntington. “Would it be an invasion of privacy to ask how many men on this planet dress that way?”

“Two,” Huntington answered.

Harry smiled. “Does this pay back the favor I owe you?”

“Learning to play the game, are you?”

“It’s business and I understand business.”

“That’s good to know,” Huntington said.

Before they could say anything else, Mark Chapman called to them from down the hall. “Hey, you guys!” He waved and jogged up to where they were standing. “I see we’re all together again. Ready for lunch?”

“Lunch?” Huntington asked.

“Sure, why not. I’ve got all my paper work in order and have access to the mess hall. You guys can go in as my guests. They put on one hell of a spread. You can’t beat it. More food than a human has a right to try to eat.”

“Thanks for the invitation, but I’ve got to get back to work,” Huntington said. He turned to Harry. “If you want to get a hold of me, leave me a message at Turgenev’s.” As he spoke, he fitted his earplugs into his ears and walked out the front door.

“How about you?” Chapman asked Harry.

Harry still had some questions. “Sure.” He put his earplugs in and followed Chapman out the door.

Once outside, Harry was quickly enveloped by the noise and decided to hold his questions until they arrived at their destination. Mark, also, did not try to talk above the din. Harry dutifully followed his former roommate across the lower arc of the dome to a long, two storied building. When they entered the building, Harry discovered that the noise outside was only marginally louder than the noise inside, the difference being that the noise outside was made by unmuffled machinery whereas the noise inside was being made by boisterous men who were eating and having fun.

Harry surveyed the scene. Chapman had been right. There was more food there than a human had a right to eat. It was stacked on tables that stretched down both sides of the building. Everything was set out buffet style. The men came in, grabbed a plate and then helped themselves to whatever they wanted. The room, which was about half full, looked like it could seat a thousand workers. There were rows of tables in the middle of the room. On the right, through an open door, Harry could see kitchen workers stirring huge cauldrons of steaming liquids with oar-like ladles. Other kitchen workers were ferrying full serving dishes to the side tables and returning with the empties. In the center of the room, men were talking and eating and, at times, pointing to the back of the room to a large vid-screen that was so high definition that it almost looked three dimensional. The screen took up most of the rear wall of the building from about head high clear to the ceiling.

Harry looked at the screen. The camera was several hundred feet in the air and moving at an incredible speed trying to catch up to a black object several hundred yards in the distance. Harry recognized the red-ore surface of the planet to the screen’s left, but he did not recognize the black rock-like formation to the right. It rose out of the rolling terrain of the red-ore surface and climbed up and beyond the image capturing capability of the camera.

“What am I looking at?” Harry asked.

“That’s coming from a follow-drone trying to catch up to one of our fliers,” Mark explained.

Harry looked at the image and saw the drone approaching a black object that was shaped like an inverted “V”. “What’s he flying?”

“Himself,” Mark said.

“That’s not a machine?”

“No. It’s a man wearing a special flying suit.”

“Wait a sec. Do they call that Finneying?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Jane Somerset and Fitz-Porter were talking about it back on the STAR. Something about it being so dangerous that her father wouldn’t allow her to try it.”

“Yeah. People get killed or maimed trying to execute the competition stunts,” Mark said.

“And this takes precedent over unloading a freighter?”

“You bet. The miners take real pride in the competition. When I got here, that was the first thing anyone talked to me about.”

Harry followed Mark through a set of scanners. As Harry entered the scanner, it buzzed and the man monitoring the scanners asked him to step aside. Harry did as he was asked. Mark came over and showed the guard his pass. The guard nodded to Harry to pass on through.

“What was that all about?” Harry asked.

“This is a don’t work/don’t eat planet. You don’t have a workman’s pass. I had to okay you on mine,” Mark explained.

Harry followed Mark to one of the serving tables. Mark took a plate as he had on the STAR and helped himself to a plate full of meats and vegetables. The vegetables looked fresh, not processed. Harry did as Mark and then followed him to a seat at a table near the middle of the room. The table accommodated 12 men. Harry and Mark brought the number up to 10.

The moment they sat down, Mark turned to his nearest table mate, a dirty-faced man with broad shoulders and asked, “Who’s flying?”

“Artie Johnson,” the man said with a mouth full of partially chewed food. “The fool is going to try to make a name for himself with the Iron Eagle maneuver.”

“What’s the ‘Iron Eagle maneuver’?” Harry asked.

The men at the table stopped eating and looked at him.

“He’s new,” Mark explained. Harry doubted that Mark knew what it was either.

Everyone either nodded or grunted then went back to shoveling food into their mouths. The man that Mark had been talking to leaned forward and spoke to Harry across Mark’s plate.

“The flier comes in from about 5000 feet, skims the ground, climbs back to about 50 feet then tries to weave his way through five of the silicon pylons. By the time he reaches the last pylon he’ll be pulling about 11-Gs which is just about all a body can take before it blacks out. If he does it right, he’ll skim past the last pylon with about two feet to spare.”

“And if he doesn’t do it right?”Harry asked.

“Then, we turn him into compost and ask planet resources to hire us a replacement,” a man at the other end of the table said. Everyone laughed.

“Why do they call it the ‘Iron Eagle’?” Harry asked.

“It’s named after the first flyer that pulled it off,” the man on Harry’s left said.

Harry noticed that all the men were wearing clean jumpsuits. “So, I take it that it’s the toughest maneuver to do,” Harry said.

“Pretty much,” the gaunt man with a receding hairline sitting across from him said.

“It’s killed everyone who’s tried it since and maimed the Peregrine,” one of the other men said.

“Peregrine?” Harry asked.

“We had a female flyer not to long ago,” the man sitting next to Mark said. “She clipped the pylon in the competition run. Burst her skull wide open. She survived but went blind because of it.”

“Yeah, she was real good. Came in first place three years running. Then she tried the Iron Eagle and nearly bought it,” one man said.

“We voted her a full share all the same,” one of the other men said.

“Full share?” Harry asked.

“Yeah. This is a don’t work/don’t eat planet.With her blind, she couldn’t work. She should have been sent home with a workman’s compensation package that would have taken care of her for life, but since she got hurt flying, the men figured we owed it to her since she got hurt in the line of duty, so to speak. So, we got together and told the bosses that we wanted her to stay... kinda be our guest. Speaking of work, what do you do?You’re not exactly dressed for anything. Just get here?”

“Yeah, we came in on the freighter together,” Mark said eating and looking up at the big screen. “He’s on some sort of committee.”

“And what committee would that be?” the man who had first talked to Mark asked.

“Something called the Vigilance Committee,” Mark said.

Everyone at the table stopped doing whatever it was they were doing. Those who were eating, their arms froze in mid motion. Men stopped swallowing. Slowly they put their forks, spoons and glasses down and slid back in their chairs and left the table.

Mark, who had been oblivious to their actions, looked away from the screen as they left. “What was that all about?” Mark asked turning to Harry.

“I think you had better ask one of your new friends,” Harry said. He pushed himself away from the table and his uneaten food. “Thanks for the lunch. I’ve got to get back to the main dome. People to see. Things to do. You know.”

“Yeah,” Mark said obviously clueless about what had just happened. “It was good seeing you again. Any time you want a free meal, just give me a holler.”

“I’ll do that,” Harry said as he left the table.

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