Harry took the next carrier back to Nova-3. All the way back, he stared out through the multiple layers of Plexilum to the red-ore surface of the planet. The empty space served as a playing board on which Harry’s mind scattered a handful of puzzle pieces. He couldn’t see how they all fit together. He wasn’t even sure that all the pieces were to the same puzzle. He pulled out his PCD and messaged Lydia for Quincey’s address. She messaged it back. Quincey lived up on the inner circle, not far from the Lehman’s business office. Harry wondered why Quincey chose to live near the terraforming plant and not in one of the more desirable sections of the city?He messaged Quincey that he was on his way. Quincey messaged back that he was finishing up following a lead but that Harry should go over to his place anyway.
Harry worked his way towards the central core and disembarked at the alley that lead to Quincey’s living quarters. Unlike the other alleys that Harry had been on, this one narrowed as it approached the terraforming plant until by the time he reached Quincey’s door, the walls had closed in to barely the width of his shoulders. Quincey’s was the only door in the narrow cul-de-sac of the end of the alley.
Harry knocked and after a few moments a woman’s voice said to “come up.” Harry did not see the speaker. He heard a click and failing to see any kind of opening mechanism, he pushed on the door and it swung easily open for him. Harry walked in. The corridor facing him was dark. He could see the beginning of a set of stairs. He took them. The light from the open door filtered in filling the stairwell with a soft, red-twilight kind of glow. Harry climbed the stairs and reached another door. He knocked. A woman opened it.
“Come in,” she said.
The room was totally dark. The soft lighting from the staircase barely passed the open door. “I was looking for Quincey,” he said stepping into the darkness.
“You must be Harry Salem,” the woman said. As she spoke she reached towards the wall and adjusted a hidden rheostat engaging the recessed lighting above them. The room warmed to the same twilight that Harry had encountered on the stairs. “I was expecting you.”
“And you are totally unexpected,” Harry said.
“Matt said I would be. Would you care to sit down? Matt said to tell you that he wanted to follow up on something you said about Turgenev last night and that he wanted you to wait until he got back.” She made a general gesture towards a couch in the far corner of the room. “Can I get you anything?”
“No thanks, I just had lunch out at Mine-6,” Harry said stretching the truth a little. Harry looked around. Quincey’s living quarters were nothing like Harry had expected. First of all he had not expected the woman. Secondly he had not expected the wall decorations. The walls themselves were covered with various works of art that depicted fields and plants and growing things. The walls were painted green with strokes of yellow. The interior of Quincey’s place was the antithesis of everything outside its walls.
The woman turned and led Harry to the couch. They sat down. When the woman sat down, she lounged back reminding Harry of Diana Melville. “Matt has told me that you are having quite an adventure,” she said adjusting her skirt as she crossed her legs. She wasn’t wearing the planetary jumpsuit. She was wearing a form fitting dress that flared slightly below the hips. Harry studied her muscular arms, flat stomach and well developed shoulders. At first he also thought that she was wearing a net over her hair which was brown, but the net was white. Then Harry realized that the white lines that ran though her hair continued across her forehead and into her eyebrows. He took a good look at her eyes and realized that she was blind.
Harry looked around the room. On the far side, there was a large display case. It was taller than he was and inside hung a unique costume. It looked like a totem of some kind, like something he had seen in an old magazine or in a museum. It was blue/gray across the back with a white barred undercarriage. It was posed with its wings out stretched. It took Harry a couple of seconds to realize what he was looking at.
“From the silence and the direction of your breathing, I assume you are staring at the flight suit,” the woman said.
“You’re the Peregrine,” Harry said.
“So you have heard of me,” she said.
“They still talk about you out at Mine-6,” Harry said. “At lunch, I was watching someone trying to pull off something called the ‘Iron Eagle’.”
“Artie,” the Peregrine said. “The man is an idiot. He bailed before he even pulled 5-Gs on the second spike. You have got to be pulling at least 7 if you are going to make it to the end. If you are not at 11-Gs and just about passing out on the last spike, you might as well have stayed in bed.”
“You still keep up on who’s doing what?” Harry asked.
“Of course I do,” she answered. “I am blind not dead.”
“How does it work?” Harry asked getting up and walking over to the display case for a closer look.
“What do you mean?”
“The guys at the mine mentioned changing altitudes. I would have thought that without some kind of propulsion pack you could only have a controlled descent in one of these.”
“In the old days that was the case.” The Peregrine stood up and walked over to stand beside Harry. “Centuries ago these were nothing more than fabric stretched between a flier’s arms and legs making him a kind of kite. But even then the fliers weight and gravity overcame any lift capability. This is a contained unit which is designed to work as an airfoil. The metallic material along the back and legs acts to increase the surface area allowing a low pressure zone to build up generating lift once you have hit about 35 miles per hour. With one of these on, you can jump out of a hovercraft and ride the thermals around those silicon outcroppings for hours.”
“It looks bulky. How do you land?”
“You have to flare out at just the right moment near the ground and change the lift coefficient to a pull and you stop. If you do it right, you literally step out of the air and on to the ground.” There was a longing in her voice.
“Do you miss it?” Harry asked.
“So why don’t you get your eyes fixed and go back to being the lady of the skies?”
“I am a Purist, Mr. Salem. We do not believe in altering whatever denigration the universe sees fit to subject our bodies to.”
“Steve Somerset was married to a Purist.”
“Jane’s mother. I know. She was a good friend to a young woman just learning the Purist doctrine.”
“I’m surprised you’re not bitter,” Harry said.
“Why should I be?” The Peregrine turned and walked back to the couch and sat down. “I was injured doing something that I chose to do. It was my choice. I chose to fly. I chose to attempt the Iron Eagle. I just was not strong enough to pull it off.”
“Do you know why humans cannot fly?”
“Never thought about it.”
“We do not have the breast bones for it,” the Peregrine said. “The next time you see a bird look at its chest. Their breast bone is exceptionally larger than the other bones in their bodies. It gives their flight muscles something to anchor to. A human’s breast bone is too small to support the muscle structure necessary for flight. To pull off the Iron Eagle you need to have not just well-developed pectoral muscles, they have to be supremely well-developed. Coming around that last spike at 11-Gs the strain on them is unbelievable. You have to come around the last spike in the Delta position and then flare out, hold it, then drop back into the Delta. I flared out, and my right arm dislocated from the shoulder...”
“... You broke your wing?”
“So to speak. My right arm collapsed, and I careened into the spike. I survived, but I came away blind.”
“Yet, you chose to stay on Magnum-4.”
“Where else would I go?”
“The men at the mine said they voted you a full share so you could have gone anywhere and have been the wealthiest woman on any world you chose to live.”
“A wealthy blind woman is still a blind woman. There was no place I wanted to go and no one I wanted to go with. Everything I loved was here.”
The front door opened and Quincey walked in. “Oh, good, you’re here. I see you’ve met Cynthia.”
“Mr. Salem seems to be very interested in Finneying,” Cynthia said. “He has been allowing me to vicariously re-live my glory days.”
Quincey walked over to the couch, bent over and kissed Cynthia on the forehead. “Your glory days are still ahead of you, my dear.”
“You are sweet to say that.”
“Now, what can I do for you?” Quincey asked turning to Harry.
“Well, first off, you can stop jerking me around and start telling me the truth since I’m about the only person on this planet you can trust,” Harry said.
“And I can trust you because...?” Quincey walked around to a recessed cabinet, opened it and took out a blue bottle and glass. He poured himself a drink. He took a sip and then put the glass in Cynthia’s hand. She took a sip and smiled.
Harry went back to the couch and sat down. He leaned back and crossed his legs leisurely. “As I see it, there are, at least, two power-plays going on. The first is Lydia’s. I don’t know what she’s got planned. But it’s something otherwise she would have returned to Earth Prime long ago. Second is the one Turgenev and his cronies are pulling off...”
“Have you given that one much thought?” Quincey said taking the glass back from Cynthia.
“I’m sure it had something to do with Somerset,” Harry said. “I haven’t been here long enough to understand the dynamics of this place, but a couple of things are obvious. Firstly, Steve Somerset was someone special. He wasn’t a mine owner, but all the mine owners kowtowed to him. Whatever his position, he needed an enforcer... you... whatever Lydia is planning, she needs an enforcer. My guess is that she’s going to ask you to fill that position. Whatever Turgenev is planning, he’s hired an enforcer...”
“That’s what I was checking on,” Quincey said. “But how did you know?”
“His name is Parker Huntington and he was one of my roommates on the trip out here. Mark Chapman, my other roommate, said that he had had something to do with law enforcement. I just ran into him out at Mine-6 and he told me that he was working for Turgenev. By the way, he wants to meet you on neutral ground.”
“He said something about protocol. I’m supposed to arrange the meeting and contact him up at the R&R.”
“Trouble?” Cynthia asked in a concerned voice.
“Not yet,” Quincey said. “He just wants to size me up.” He turned back to Harry. “Go on.”
“You’re the man in the middle,” Harry said.“Anyone that wants to confront Lydia is going to have to go through you. And anyone who wants to assume whatever position Steve Somerset had will also have to go through you. Me... my only assignment is to get Lydia back to Earth Prime and out of your hair. I’m about the only person I know on this planet that doesn’t have some kind of agenda that hasn’t got you in the middle of.”
There was a long pause, and then Quincey broke out laughing. “You just may be right, Harry. Except for Cynthia here, you just may be the only person I CAN trust.”
Harry shrugged smugly. “So how do you want to handle Huntington?” he asked.
“I’ll meet him on his turf,” Quincey said.
“Is that wise?” Cynthia asked.
“Neither he nor Turgenev will expect it,” Quincey said. “If I meet them at the R&R, it will serve notice that the status quo hasn’t changed, that Steve’s interests are my interest and they are still in effect.”
“What exactly ARE Somerset’s interests?” Harry asked. “And please, no lies.”
“Steve found this planet,” Quincey said. “Don’t ask me how, because I don’t know. But once he knew it was here and what it was made of, he arranged with the six mine owners to strip this place raw. It was his plan. They pay... paid him 10% off the top for the rights to mine here.”
“And what did that get them?” Harry asked.
“Protection from the Directorate and more wealth than any of them could use in a dozen lifetimes.”
“Well, that explains Lydia,” Harry said.
“It does?” Quincey asked.
“She wanted Somerset as a buffer. Probably a quid pro quo for his having been her commerce raider in the past,” Harry said. “The Directorate could never make a move on this place with her here. As a member of the Directorate, she controls the First Space Cavalry. It’s like having a private army.”
“And the other members of the Directorate couldn’t order it to attack her here?”
“They could order it, but with the Somerset wealth at her back, the Space Cavwould be foolish to comply. They make out better protecting her rather than backing any of the other members of the Directorate. The whole Directorate combined couldn’t offer half the money that Lydia could. And you’re so isolated out here, that I think I can safely say that the Directorate doesn’t fully comprehend what’s here.”
“But the situation has been totally destabilized,” Quincey said. He tapped his forehead with his left index finger. “Do you think that the Directorate sent an assassin to eliminate Steve to undermine Lydia?”
“Anything is possible,” Harry said. “I think the key lies in the messages that Somerset was sending and receiving every thirteen days. Did you find anything embedded in them?”
“He was tracking Jane,” Quincey said.
“Jane was pretty much on her own. She had initially interviewed several new suppliers which was her stated reason for leaving Magnum-4 and the one that Steve sanctioned. However, when she finished the business portion of her trip, she took off on an unscheduled sightseeing jaunt. Steve was forwarding her itinerary to person or persons unknown. Since he didn’t know where she was going, he could only update his contact by telling him where she had been. The message he received contained a detailed report on her coming and goings and whom she was meeting. Apparently, she hooked up with Fitz-Porter about half-way into her trip and they had themselves one hell of a good time.”
Harry tried not to smile. Given Jane Somerset’s looks and the fact that they had access to an unlimited supply of money, he could just imagine the kind of ‘good time’ the two of them had been having. Harry shook off the fantasy and got back to business. “What do you want to do about Huntington?” he asked.
“When did you plan to see Diana Melville again?”
“I thought about going up there tonight,” Harry said.
“Good. I’ll go with you. Turgenev won’t see that coming. What do you plan to do now?”
“I’d like to go back to the Communication’s Center and look at all that shipping information again, but this time without the help of a stimulant,” Harry said. “Maybe with a clear mind, I’ll pick up on something I missed yesterday. I also want to look at the communications that were sent off planet. Right now, my money is on Turgenev and I want to see how and when he hired Huntington.”
Quincey stood up. “I’ll call Keith and tell him you’re on your way.”
Harry stood up and followed Quincey to the door. Quincey opened it. Harry turned back towards the room. “It was nice to meet you, Cynthia.”
“It was nice meeting you, too, Mr. Salem,” she answered.
“I’ll meet you out front of the R&R at 11 tonight,” Quincey said.
“See you then,” Harry said. He left the room and Quincey closed the door behind him.