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by DKJ
Rated: 18+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2209764
The search for Charlie begins. Thirty Nine. The girls have been rescued is that it?
         After the girls had all completed their medical exams, Tawny was vainly adjusting her waist band and her top. You might say jokingly that the girls had passed. The visitors had arrived, their families were here. The waiting was tearing her apart. The medical exam had meant strange contraptions, being poked, weighed, they were measured for height, fingerprints and DNA were recorded. They were even subjected to a Synaptic Mapping procedure. At the same time, it was invasive and exposing while being distant and impersonal.

Tawny was maybe one of the lucky ones, having a previous Synaptic Map on record. It allowed them to confirm her identity. The map was a trace of synaptic neural activity in response to specific impulse stimulation. Each person had their own unique ways of working. The procedure was a lengthy one, taking time to test and measure and re-test. If Tawny hadn’t been sure that she was herself before, she was now.

         At this point, Tawny’s role in proceedings was complete, she’d done her job. It might even be said that her job was over. Without even knowing it, Tawny had completed her mission. Perhaps this should draw our story to a close. We could say, they all got married, had kids and lived happily ever after. That would be taking the easy way out and glossing over all the music, sex and drugs… You’d miss out the very drama of life. After all, isn’t that what the story about the princess and frog, is all about sex? She kissed the frog because she wanted to get some. A fairy tale ending but render down into a crude rendition but to the point.

         Tawny looked listlessly out of the window over the field of men perform their calisthenics. “This way, Ma’am.” Corporal Gin said. Gin, as in Gin, like the drink. “Ma’am!” he insisted. Tawny had never been called Ma’am before, it felt alien. She turned on her heels and followed. There was no one to say, you don’t have to do this. Tawny had to do this. This was the hard part for Tawny.

         Mrs. Laurelle sat in a small interview room next to her daughter. Esme sat next to her Mum. Their backs were to the mirrored observation window. They had been warned that everything would be officially recorded. They had been told to prepare themselves. Other than Tawny, the kidnappers had only taken girls. The interview room door snapped open with the sharpness of a military salute. A slender figure of a girl walked in timidly. Mrs. Laurelle covered her mouth in shock, while Esme smiled. The girl was a pretty thing, she paused behind the table.

         Recovering herself Mrs. Laurelle asked, “Tawny? Is that you?”

         Tawny swallowed, “Yes Mum.” She said. It was hard to admit. Tawny felt embarrassed, humiliated even. Worse was the look of hurt and devastation on Mrs. Laurelle’s face. “Mum, I’m sorry!” Tawny said desperately.

         Anger flashed in the woman’s eyes. Mrs. Laurelle took a breath. “Tawny, sit down. Or do you have somewhere better to be?” Mrs. Laurelle asked bitterly. Esme felt strangely curious, happy even and she wondered if that made her a bad person. “Did they hurt you?” Mrs. Laurelle asked Tawny after she’d sat down.

         “No… I mean yes. We were tied up and that hurt. Also, not being a proper girl, I was sore all over when I woke up. Then when the FBI rescued us and untied everyone, that hurt too. When we were attacked, I punched one them and that really hurt. I’m okay now though.” Tawny admitted.

         This just made Esme smile again. “Cute outfit.” she commented.

         “Yeah, it’s all the rage for kidnappings this season.” Tawny retorted.

         “Don’t!” Mrs. Laurelle snapped. “This is all my fault!” she explained, “Esme, you were supposed to be first, the older sibling. You were going to be Tawny but noting worked out the way it was supposed to and then Tawny, well you were a difficult baby. When they asked for your name, I must have still been very groggy. They told me later that I insisted on Tawny. After that you were Tawny. The kidnappers must have thought you were a girl… This is all my fault! Tawny I’m so sorry!” It was true that none of the other boys taken by the Cartel had feminine names.

         “See, I told you. I should have been the big sister!” Esme quipped, sticking out her tongue to emphasis the point.

         “Mum, it wasn’t your fault.” Tawny insisted. “They took over a thousand of us. You didn’t do that, they did!” Tawny said.

         “One thousand and sixty nine girls, including you.” Esme said. “You said you were sorry, why?” Esme challenged.

         Mrs. Laurelle was about to admonish her daughter but Tawny shook her head. “I was scared…” she admitted, “They did this to me and I was scared. When they attacked us, I just felt weak and helpless. Then they got away! I should have done something. They hurt me and I want to know why. And, I was feeling selfish wanting to run away and hide, while there were a thousand girls being brave, standing up to them.” Tawny explained at least half of it but at least it was a start.

         “You said, you hit one of them. That must have taken some courage!” Mrs. Laurelle said.

         “I wanted to hit him again… but I didn’t.” Tawny said.

         “Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” Mrs. Laurelle said.

         “You said, you were tied up. Was it sexy tied up or just like cops and robbers tied up?” Esme asked, Mrs. Laurelle shot her a look of outrage. “What? We’re all adults here!” Esme remarked defensively.

         “Okay…” Mrs. Laurelle admitted, she took a deep breath, “Tawny, answer the question.”

         “Um… Sexy, I guess. Definitely not cops and robbers… We were gagged with a loop around our necks and our wrists were pulled up our backs, connected to the loop around the neck and our ankles were tied, they were connected to our wrists. I was just sore and thinking about breathing at that time.” Tawny explained.

         “What’s it like being a girl for the first time?” Esme pressed.

         Mrs Laurelle pushed a small pressed fibre box across the table. “Happy Birthday, Tawny.” she said. Tawny looked like she’d just been slapped in the face. Tears began to roll down her face and Tawny fought the sobs.

         “It’s okay to cry.” Esme said gently.

         The box was a cube with a red ribbon tied in bow. Mrs. Laurelle wanted to reach out, to rush around to the other side of the table and hug her child but that was against the rules. This was a formal interview though Tawny wasn’t a prisoner, she was a witness and a victim. The box was approximately seven centimetres cubed. Tawny struggled recovering her composure and reached out for the box. Her fingers were trembling.

         The knot came away easily. Inside the box was a small purse closed by a draw string. She lifted that out and emptied the contents on to her hand. Tawny’s smile came with genuine warmth and surprise, as she admired the soft round ball of putty like material. It had a dull off golden colour. Tawny could close her fist and squeeze and it would ooze out between her fingers.

         “It’s a Familiar.” Esme explained needlessly. Tawny flicked her wrist and launched the ball into the air. The thing rose up and just when it looked it should fall back down it seemed to forget. The surface glittered with light and took on a truly golden metallic hue. The Familiar twisted and turned in the air taking in its surroundings for the first time.

         “Wow!” Tawny uttered. The Familiar was an antiquated concept in technology. In the olden days, the familiar would carry messages to places where regular signals couldn’t reach or where the relay systems didn’t extend. They carried specialised tools to survey or perform diagnostics. They were a little ball of glowing light when you were alone.

         “Thank you.” Tawny said, all of her troubles forgotten for a moment. “What am I going to call you?” she asked her familiar and it turned as if to look at her. After some thought, Tawny said, “I’ll call you thirty nine.”

         Before she could stop herself, Esme said, “You can’t just give it number!” outraged.

         “Now, now children.” Mrs. Laurelle intoned. Esme was as annoyed by her outburst as by the number, thirty nine.

         “Alright then, Lucas.” Tawny added. The little orb, Lucas spun with delight.

         “What’s so special about the number thirty nine then?” Esme asked.

         “Nothing I can think of.” Tawny explained.

         “In that case, it’s a blank canvas for Lucas.” Mrs. Laurelle added diplomatically. “We haven’t got much time left. Tawny tell us what happened, please.” She asked, needing to know.

         “We were on the bus… I think, there was a bright flash. I’m not sure. I don’t remember falling asleep or anything.”

         “Then I woke up, sore, tied up and hanging from a pole. That was when nothing happened for hours. I struggled, I couldn’t kick or twist or anything. It got to the point I tried to pull on the loop around my neck to choke myself. I couldn’t pull hard enough, the rope wasn’t long enough.”

         “Eventually along comes this cargo loader, it picks me up and take me to the FBI. They released me from being tied up and that hurt like a son of a bitch! Sorry Mum… Then we were taken to this waiting room, it was just like a big empty storeroom but with all of us in it.”

         “After that we were attacked. The machine came out of the wall. It looked like it was a modified Frame. The next thing I know, I’m charging at it. I tried to punch clean through the canopy but I only cracked it and hurt my hand. Rena, she was one of the girls on the bus, she was really upset. Another girl, she attacked it. She got a handful of wires and bits from inside one of the joints.”

         “Then this soldier comes in and he’s shooting it with his Impulse. The Frame was a big machine and the Impulse just bounces off its shields. So the soldier gets in close and shoots at point blank range. Because the Frame was so big, it’s too slow to hit him while he was moving. When his impulse ran out he went to his gun and then his knife. But the Frame batted him away like a sack of potatoes.”

         “That was when the rest of them started coming up. They’d made a hole in the ground and were climbing out.” Tawny blushed, “A Space Force Infantry Drone arrived at the same time. It was powerful and magnificent. The Frame was about to kill the soldier. In one shot the oily black Drone cut a hole clean through the Frame and pilot, it stopped dead. Then the rest of the attackers began to retreat.”

         “After that we were loaded on to buses and brought here. There’s not much more to tell.” Tawny said, Esme smiled.

         “Well, what’s it like? Being a girl for the first time?” Esme asked again determinedly.

         “To be honest. Mostly, it’s like being a guy except I’m constantly feeling like a transvestite. The heels are weird but I’m getting used to them I think…” Tawny wasn’t sure she wanted to go on, admit to the betrayal that was gnawing away at her. “Occasionally, I get these urges and I have… feelings.” she said ashamedly.

         “It’s okay, Tawny. To have feelings you know. And, urges well they’re a natural part of life too. I’m sure you’re just adjusting that’s all. You’ll be home soon enough and you’ll be fine. We’ll look after you. Life is an adventure, you’re on a new path you just need to find your footing and you’ll back on your way before you even know it.” Mrs Laurelle explained trying to be re-assuring. Tawny wasn’t ready to give up on the old path just yet.

         “Time’s up.” a disembodied voice said.

         “Tawny, we’re here for you. Honey we’ll support you and be there when you need to talk.” Mrs Laurelle said urgently and Corporal Gin entered.

         “You are to return to barracks.” Corporal Gin instructed Tawny tersely. “I’ll show you ladies out.” he said to the visitors gently.

         The Zone, Brad cross a threshold into another world. Trust isn’t a commodity here, Devin had taught him. Don’t take it personally. The way they look at you is either, there’s something they can take or something you want. The Apprentice Sleuth desperately didn’t want to look like a cop. Sometimes he suspected Devin was trying to test him but that would been a mistake.

         If this were a test, then Brad was going to avoid The Black instead choosing to begin his enquiries in the Night Star. The joint seemed to live up to its night theme by being dark. It was also dirty. The patrons were… There was one patron, sleeping face down on the bar in his own drool. “Hey, I’m looking for Charlie.” Brad announced.

         “No Charlies’ here.” The barman grumbled dismissively. Brad looked around the near empty establishment. His instincts told him the man was telling the truth, he left. The Zone was the dirt beneath the surface if you to scratch Lunar Lagrange. One drunken night or early morning, it was around here that Brad had gone from honest broke student to disreputable sleuth. He’d lied about being sober and Devin lied about believing him.

         The Unicorn’s Shoe was a popular spot with the tourists and the grafters. Devin liked the place as well. So far, Brads’ education in detective work had been an odd one. His first lessons were lifting Ident Slips off unsuspecting tourists. If you’re going to catch ‘em at it then you’ve got to be better than them, Devin argued.

         “Have you seen Charlie?” Brad asked courting couple. They both looked at him as if he’d grown a second uglier head. He pushed deeper into the Shoe. “Hey, have you seen Charlie?” he asked a bunch of rowdy students. ‘No!’ they chorused. Brad went to the bar and tried to ask but since he wasn’t ordering, the barman had no time for him. Surprisingly, Devin made it look easy, people just seemed to talk to Devin. Sometimes they didn’t want to talk to him but he was so insufferable that… well they’d say anything to get rid of him.

         “Hey, I’m looking for Charlie.” Brad said to some guys, in his best Devin impression. The group looked at him murderously and walked away. Brad asked himself again, how in the name of the great perforated membrane was he supposed to find a Tamarzee. The great perforated membrane was something he would never forget, his first case. His first encounter with the terrifying monster that is humanity.

         “Hey, are you a cop?” Sam said as she playfully twister her hair between her fingers.

         “Yeah,” Brad said not puffing up his chest as he would have normally, rather disappointed by his lack of progress. “I am, kind of.” This was the first time anyone had seen him as a cop and he’d been looking forward to it. Being seen as a cop had to be better than a punk.

Sam pouted, “Kind of… Awe, a baby cop! Come back and see me when you’re all grown up.” Sam said and seductively she stalked off.

         Brad made his way out of the Shoe. Reload, Brad could thing of at least two other places called Reload in the Lagrange and they weren’t a franchise. This was another dark and lonely place. So many of these joints around here seemed to be missing the hospitality out of the hospitality business. Brad stalked around Reload rather intent on not finding anyone here.

         Then he found a table. Two men were sat in quiet conversation. Brad cleared his throat. Only then did either of them acknowledge his presence. Brad sensed something uneasy about them. “I’m looking for Charlie.” He said. Not many people have a sixth sense for the three menacing voids of darkness that hovered behind him. Most don’t live long enough to develop such a sense.

         “What do you want with Charlie?” the other man said. Why was he the other man, Brad wondered as the first watched him intently.

         “Charlie’s missing.” Brad explained.

         “Is he now?” the other glanced at the first. Brad was aware that he was missing something significant, something he should have picked up on. His heart was racing, instinct told him to turn and run, instinct told him to stand his ground. Instinct could be a contrary son of bitch sometimes. Good sense told him that there was nowhere to run.

         “Yes… There’s a five hundred Draq reward.” Brad offered hoping that would sound more official.

         The other man looked at the first raising an eyebrow and looking a little amused. The first man, short ginger hair, piercing blue eyes seemed to be looking right through Brad. As brave as Brad was trying to appear, he was terrified. “What has Charlie done?” the first man asked gently.

         “Done… Um, nothing. He’s missing.” Brad said.

         “I heard Charlie was a scoundrel and a laggard.” The other man said with a note of mockery to his voice.

         “I am wondering if Charlie knows he’s missing?” the first man asked.

         “Does Charlie have any other names?” the other man suggested.

         “No.”, Brad reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his slate, holding it out for the other’s inspection. The hairs on the back of his neck rose and Brad shut his eyes, sensing the static charge. It was the proximity of the confinement emitter of the Impulse Director that stripped electrons from follicle and Brad knew it. “He’s a Tamarzee. He’s been missing for three days. His name is Charlie.” Brad explained quickly.

         The big man behind him burst out laughing. Brad reasoned he had to be big with a laugh like that. A sharp excited nasally voice exclaimed, “Can I kill him now, boss?” Brad waited for what felt like an eternity.

         “No.” the big man said.

         Brad realised he was trembling. “That’s adrenaline.” the first man said. “My name is Charlie.” he added.

         “Hey, that’s Charlie!” another voice behind Brad said, “My little girl, she loves Charlie.” he exclaimed. It’s easy to forget that ‘bad guys’ can be parent too. Just trying to get by for their families as best they can.

         “Filthy cop’s trying to cheat us.” the sharp nasally voice added and Brad felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise again. “It says here the reward is two thousand Draq!” Brad checked his slate and struck it irritably on the side after which the page refreshed to show the new reward of two thousand Draq.

         “An honest cop, that don’t look out for himself, ain’t an honest cop.” the big man said. Brad was about to protest but a look from Charlie suggested discretion was the better part of valour.

         “Do you honestly thing a Tamarzee would hang about in a bar like this?” Charlie asked.

         “No.” Brad admitted feeling rather foolish now.

         “This is the part where you leave…” the other man said, “One way or another.” he added possibly for dramatic effect or it was just a regular threat. Either way, Brad didn’t care. He looked over his shoulder and no one was there. Discretion told him it was time to head to the docks.

         As the docks came into view, Brad considered, maybe that was all a setup. Maybe Devin just wanted to teach him a lesson, to play a trick. Brad was sure that Devin was an honest cop at least by that definition. The docks were like an ocean of ships and piers. Charlie could be among the floating debris and illegally discarded junk that collects everywhere.

Charlie… the Charlie from the Reload was waiting when Brad got off his shuttle. “How did you get here?” he asked, “Why are you here?” he went on.

         “I have a niece and if she found out that Charlie was in trouble and I didn’t do anything, then she’d never speak to me.” Charlie explained to answer at least the second question.

         Charlie, this Charlie, he had stowed away and he was hiding. He had treasure. Charlie was cold, hungry and frightened but he was smart too. There are laws about the creation of artificial emergent sentients. These laws were in fact to prevent the creation of such sentients. The purpose being not to stifle knowledge or prevent the inevitable robot uprising. The reason for these laws was anti-slavery, no matter how well intentioned, an invention serves a purpose. The invention of an artificial sentient would first serve the purpose of knowledge but second it be to guide a spaceship or work a Plasma Impulse Accelerator. The law said that the purpose of life, is life.

         Now Charlie was artificial and sentient, yet he lived in a grey area of the law. Most significantly because he was the product conceptually at least, of the logical extension of selective breading. He was smart even for Tamarzee. Being smart however doesn’t mean you can’t get in over your head.

         He quietly crawled through a duct. A dumb animal might try to use the environmental conduits to get around and for the most part you’d be safe. The environmental conduits were rigged with sensors and traps, not to mention other hazards. Charlie was getting hungry, very hungry. The smell of food came from the galley but so too did the sound of danger. The galley was the social hub of the ship and was seldom left unattended.

         Quietly, Charlie snuck into the galley. He would have to operate the dispenser. Charlie had watched Dana order his fruit a thousand time but not paying any special attention. This dispenser was different, the buttons were in the wrong places and the pictures were wrong too. With the determination brought on by necessity, Charlie poked buttons like he’d seen Dana so many times before. After many tries the machine whirred into life.

         After a ping, the door clicked to open and the smell of food filled the room. His ears were alert for the sound of any disturbance. Charlie pulled open the door and picked it up. It was hot meat on a stick. Normally, he didn’t get meat except on special occasions. He juggled the hot stick between his hands and tried to bite down on the meat.

         Acrobatically, Charlie threw the stick in the air and jumped a backward summersault and he spat trying to cool his mouth. He caught the stick again, running and waving the stick to cool it further. Understandably, the galley was getting messy. A noise came before Charlie could eat his meal, he was forced to retreat with his meat stick in hand. Quietly he replaced the panel over the maintenance conduit.

         The galley door opened and cross words were spoken. A booming voice swore at the other occupants of the ship. Quickly, before moving on, Charlie ate the remainder of the meat on a stick. Then the ship rumbled and shook as it docked at a new destination. This was as familiar to Charlie as the rain or wind might be any Earther. Charlie slightly opened the maintenance panel and discarded his stick.

         He seized the opportunity and headed straight for the docking port. They had arrived and if Charlie was in with any luck they would be back where they’d started from. Then he could find his way home, that was his plan. The Grove was a satellite platform in high Earth orbit, it was only a bit more than a farming outpost.

         Timing was everything when it came to sneaking. Charlie was an expert sneaker, rather than waiting for the coast to be clear, he closely shadowed a crewman disembarking the ship. Most of the time, security would be focused on the crewman and they’d miss little Charlie. If not, he ran for it, in most places already having prepared his escape route. Here things were different, he was alone and the Grove was new to him.

         He felt like it took forever to spot a maintenance panel but then he was at it like a flash. Practised fingers worked it free. Charlie had opened more maintenance panels than he’d had hot meals. Quickly he slipped into the dark. Only the rattle of the panel being replaced drew any attention. A moment or two and his eyes adjusted to the dark and familiar surroundings of the maintenance conduit. He began his exploration of this virgin territory.

         A shriek of terror filled the conduit as a pair of bright eyes appeared in the darkness. Charlie burst out of the nearest maintenance panel and ran. He’d landed in one of the Grove’s main public spaces. He ran dodging legs and feet, climbing people, darting this way and that as if chased by an unseen daemon. Then he found another maintenance hatch and was able to disappear, at least for a short while. From the first panel came a purr and meow, as a fluffy cat disdainfully alighted from the conduit. If Charlie was part dog, which wasn’t completely out of the question, he didn’t have the gene that chased cats.

         Brad asked Charlie, “What’s in it for you?” suspicion ripe in his voice.

         Charlie gave a roguish smile. “Your job is to find Charlie. My job is… complicated. Come on, we’ve got to find a monkey.” Charlie explained.

         “I’m not sure about this.” Brad said.

         “Good. Betrayal really hurts when you trust the bastard. Trust your instincts kid. Right now, you can help me and if you survive long enough, you might get an education.” Charlie offered.

         “Aren’t you supposed to offer me something? Isn’t that how this works?” Brad asked.

         “No, kid.” Charlie said ruefully, “In the game of the con, it’s the dupe who’s got choose the con. We’re not trading nothing, I’m offering to help you.” Charlie clapped Brad on the shoulder.

         Devin once told Brad, that at times you’ll want to run for the hills when you should actually hold your ground and there will be times when you want to hold and fight but you should run for the hills. The trick is knowing when. “Okay but I’m not going to take any crap and I’m not a kid!”

         “You got it. You want respect, that needs to be earned.” Charlie said. “So, how do we start?” he asked.

         “Hey, you’re offering to help me!” Brad remarked.

         “You’re the cop or did you forget that already?” Charlie said in a sardonic tone.

         Hamish was a CIA officer. His debrief of Dougal had produced some insight. All Cartel members on Point Memorial were in custody based on Dougal’s reports. Part of the purpose of the debrief was to reap the fruit that might connect to other non-subject matter cases. As a CIA officer Hamish was prohibited from operating on US soil. Yet a subject matter had landed on his desk about a threat.

         The source indicated that the evidence would be communicated domestically. Indeed, one of the more than one thousand victims of the recent kidnapping would unknowingly carry the data. The nature to the threat was at best ambiguous. Even the source described the threat as being at this time existential. All the source asked Hamish to do was review the evidence and evaluate the threat for himself.

         Passing through the security checks of the naval base at Quanitco felt like he was stepping into a nest of vipers. They were supposed to be on the same side, of cause. It is a hard lesson to learn not to trust those who serve in uniform under the same flag as you.          Perhaps this is because you only ever see the underbelly of the beast. Betrayal comes from within, not from the enemy.

         “Sir.” The man with the sergeant’s strips said.

         “I’m a civilian, not a sir, son.” Hamish said.

         “Yes sir. I’ll still call you sir, if it’s all the same.” the sergeant said.

         “My name’s Albury. Mr. Albury.” Hamish explained.

         “Yes sir.” the sergeant agreed. Mr. Albruy didn’t look like what you’d imagine a Company man to look like. Though, the Company was the only reasonable explanation for him being here.

         Mr. Albury was a new legend created for this operation. He was a regular civilian, a member of the educational establishment. He’d been sent by the Board of Education, an institution no one had heard of before, to interview the victims.

         “I guess you get used to it eventually.” Mr. Albury said.

         “Used to what, sir?” the sergeant asked.

         “The guns, being surrounded by so many people with guns.” Mr. Albury explained.

         “This is America, sir.” the sergeant protested as if Mr. Albury were challenging his patriotism.

         “Your young my boy. Ask yourself what is freedom and if you need a gun to have it? Then as a bonus, you can ask if someone else having the gun protects your freedom or just steals it?”

         “Sir, we all have guns here.” the sergeant retorted.

         “Some guns are bigger than others, some concealed and some point at the ones you love. Is that what makes freedom?” Albury asked.

         “Sir, it’s in the constitution the right to bare arms.” the sergeant explained.

         “Against an unjust government.” Mr. Albury added.

         “Sir, I’m not sure I like your tone.” the sergeant countered.

         “That’s alright, my boy. You’re free to hold that opinion.” Mr. Albury said.

         The sergeant got a notification, “Sir, you’re cleared to go through.” he said.

         Hamish got up from his chair where he’d been waiting and smiled at the man. “It’s been nice chatting with you.” he said. Mr. Albury had the air of a retired geography teacher about him.

         “Sir.” the sergeant acknowledged.

         Going through a door, Mr. Albury was met by a Private, First Class. His escort explained as they walked that most of the navy base was a prohibited area for the civilian visitor. He was issued a pass that he’d have to surrender when ever he left. His pass would open twenty one doors which sounds like a lot until you consider that three of those let you get to the Head.

         In for a banana, in for a mangrove swamp, Charlie still had his treasure. He decided to take a chance and sneak onto another ship. This one was easier to get on to and not half as scary as the first. Being a larger ship, the galley was even bigger and the food was more abundant. Stealing food was normally one of Charlie’s favourite games. Right now it was a matter of survival, as quickly as he could, he grabbed as much as he could and then retreated to the warmth of a supply cupboard.

         Later and after a nice snooze, Charlie began to explore this ship. It wasn’t a particularly Tamarzee friendly design being sleek and smooth everywhere. With a long squeak, Charlie slipped down the wrong wall of a maintenance conduit for three decks. The only way back up was to use the virtual deck, an anti-grav shelf that lifted the users on an invisible floor. Charlie had learned to use these but he didn’t like them.

         Charlie was a clean Tamarzee. So the incident of a monkey being reported aboard ship came about, kind of like this. The door of the Head opened and Charlie having just washed his hands, strode out purposefully and upright. He walked straight passed a waiting woman who just looked at him in astonishment. Politely he even doffed his imaginary hat to her. Once out of sight, he ran for the nearest maintenance hatch.

         Tawny got back to her barracks to find the other girls. Lucas was radiant and golden, sparkling and proudly bobbing along over her right shoulder. The others looked up in a hush as the door had opened and seeing Tawny they relaxed. “Hey, that’s pretty!” Dannie remarked. Lucas gave an extra burst of sparkle in response.

         “Wow, you’re totally rocking it.” Hart complemented Tawny as Lucas burled about in the air acrobatically.

         This wasn’t the response Tawny had hoped for. “Hey, we were just talking baby names. What would you name your first baby if it was a girl or a boy?” Rena asked to change the subject.

         Without thinking Tawny answered, “Imogen for a girl, Trajan for a boy.” All the girls looked at her as if the world had just turning inside out, upside down and taken a wrong turn at ‘what the fuck!’.

         “What?” Tawny asked, “It’s not a difficult question. Imogen’s hot and Trajan’s kind megalomaniacal.” she explained.

         “Seriously, you’re looking kind of hot right now.” Rena offered.

         Charlie, the confusing Charlie because it’s just not right having to characters with the same name. He watched and listened as Brad interviewed dockers about a Tamarzee although he’d resorted to saying Monkey. Notifications had been sent out to port authorities, unions, associations any one who’d be interested in taking a commission on the reward. Searching for a missing monkey wasn’t fun but patience is an important part of detective work.

         Brad made up a report to Devin. In it he listed a distinct lack of progress and only referred to Charlie as a concerned citizen. That last line made Devin laugh. At least Brad was taking this seriously. There were many old hands who’d disappear for a few rotations and get drunk on the expense account only to finally report no progress and close the case as missing presumed irrecoverable.

Devin only hoped that Brad wouldn’t get into too much trouble searching for a missing pet. At this stage of his training, Brad was keen to prove himself and show his independence. He was also hopefully mature enough to be able to ask for help when he needed it. Even a missing pet case could turn ugly.

         There was a hole in Lunar Lagrange. A body had been recovered. A man was dead. Devin was an old hand. His instincts were telling him to be in a bar somewhere getting hammered on expenses, so he could file a report in few days with no leads. That is exactly what he’d tell Brad to do. Rather he was standing in a room that should smell like charcoals except he was breathing through an environmental suit. Maybe he’d been a cop for to long, he should get back to what he’s good at.

         The room was someone’s home but that wasn’t it. Devin was angry. There is on average fewer than one person murdered every day on the Lunar Lagrange platform but that was still a lot. You might say life is cheap. From dead Entertainment Industry workers to murdered bosses, no one is safe. It was mostly random, the lottery of living on the edge of civilisation. This smelt of politics.

         Devin hated politics and the inherent tribalism. Have principles, stand up for what you believe in and make your argument, that was the meritocratic way. Government Devin believed should be based on the evidence and decisions made on the basis of proof. The hazards of the tribalist political system were inherent in its manipulation of loyalty and group think.

         The scene and the evidence around him told of how the murder was committed. A shaped charge against the outer hull. The disarray of the apartment, still some evidence of a struggle remained even after the explosion and evacuation. The Deputy Master had put up a fight. Some would just need to look at a room to take in what Devin had to study, this was a part of a man’s life, this could well have been his mark in this world.

         Late at night, Tawny lay on her cot. She was tired, the day had been long. It almost seemed strange that so much had been fitted into one day. Although sleep was as elusive for as any of the girls, they shared an unspoken agreement, silence. Darkness played tricks like just being dark. They had already had time to ask what they could have done differently and why me. Yet like a bad penny these thoughts resurfaced.

         Maybe, this is where our passing in this story ends. Morning turns to night, at least where we came in, started when it was morning somewhere and now somewhere else it’s night. The regular rhythms of life have been interrupted. New beginnings come to be unfolding and old tales are shifting quietly into the shadows but don’t get to be forgotten. There is more to be told but soon it will be time to sleep and tomorrow is chance to pick things up a new.
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