Terra One: Episode 2

Flynn

Flynn took the train to the French District, a relatively affluent neighborhood that reproduced the twisting cobblestone streets of a B.E.W French town; or at least it claimed to. Nobody really knew because the last real French town disappeared when the world ended. There were old vids, of course, but all that remained of the planet below was a still-smoldering, uninhabitable cinder. Nobody would ever live there again.

An elevator carried him down—or up, depending on how you wanted to think about living on the inside of the rim of a spinning cylinder—to the French underground, part of the vast underbelly of Terra One where the life-support infrastructure of Terra One resided. Power plants, hydrological systems, electrical systems, waste recycling systems—everything needed to support the million or so inhabitants of the world ship. It was also home to the people who couldn’t afford to live on the surface, or who for one reason or other didn’t want to live on the surface. 

He followed a wide corridor for a ways, turned off into a narrower side corridor, then another, and another. There was a reason they called it The Labyrinth. It would be an easy place to get lost in were it not for steady flow of people coming and going. All you had to do was stick with the main flow. Their appearance, attire and demeanor gradually changed as he made his way into the lawless area known as The Rathole.

Terra One security didn’t come here. They left policing to the bosses. It was the same at all the colonies. When the Emissary ruled the colonies, she had tried to create a well-ordered egalitarian society in which social, economic, racial and political divisions were non-existant for the simple reason that they were unneeded. And she succeed at first, though only through the application of brute force, which is why that period is often called the Reign of the Tyrant. 

When she was gone, human nature was free to reassert itself in all its glory and all its ugliness, which included the will to power. There were always those who wanted to have power and privilage over others. That was the bane of all attempts at a truly egalitarian society. It was never a good idea to bet against human nature. At least, that’s how Flynn saw it, and he made a decent living counting on human nature to behave the way it always had.    

He eventually arrived at The Bazaar, a chaotic collection of tents, shanties, lean-to’s, and stalls crowded into a space the size of three soccer fields laid side-by-side under a high, arched ceiling. He appropriated a table in an open-air pub. A child of indeterminate gender placed a beer on the table, held out reader for Flynn to pay, and disappeared. Flynn took a long drink, sat back, and waited. 

The air was thick with the sounds of families, vendors and visitors. The smells from dozens of makeshift kitchens mixed and morphed with the odors of hundreds of bodies, producing a scent at once pleasant and unpleasant. He was looking the other way when she sat at his table, but he felt her presence. It wasn’t who he had expected, but maybe it didn’t matter.

“Flynn Archimedes,” she said, her lilting voice making a melody of his name. 

He turned to face her. She had not changed since he had last seen her on Ceres: tall and slim, hourglass figure, black hair hanging to her waist, blue eyes, astonishingly white skin, neckline plunging daringly between alabaster globes barely contained by the dark blue blouse. Her tongue glided across full red lips.

“Lilith Cytherea.” He let her name float across the close space between them. The din of the crowd faded, leaving them in their own private world. Lilith was the most seductive woman he had ever met. And the most dangerous. He waited to see which she would be today.

Lilith

She peered out from under long lashes at the long-haired, well-muscled man sitting across the table from her, and pondered how to handle the unexpected encounter. They had history, she and Flynn Archimedes. Her relationships with men tended to be brief, passionate affairs, and nearly always ended badly. Flynn was an exception. As a result, he knew her better than probably anyone on Terra One, and that made him dangerous. The smart thing would be to kill him. But not here.

“Flynn.” She stretched out his name and added a subtle harmonic that suffused it with erotic tension. “You’ve been gone for a while. Six months I think. A long time to be away from human society, especially female society. I hope it was a profitable venture.” 

His carotid artery revealed a quickening pulse, his pupils dilated. She smiled to herself. Even Flynn Archimedes was not immune to her power. 

He licked his lips. “Six months isn’t so long, and I imagine Trinity would take exception to the remark about the absence of female companionship. But yes, it was a profitable venture.”

Damn that Trinity Byzantium. Her presence in the conversation effectively parried the seduction. Time to up the ante. She slid her hand across the table and let it rest on Flynn’s. The erotic connection was immediate and powerful, a joining of soul and spirit. Lust, pure and unadulterated, swept over her. Flynn’s glazed eyes told her he was caught up in it too. 

“I want you,” she said. “Now.”

This was the weakness of her power. It was a two-way street. She had him, but he had her as well. That would not be a problem except that he knew it worked both ways; not like the youngster she had two days ago who had no idea what was happening to him until it was too late. She brought her will to bear, reaching for the balance between holding him in thrall but not losing herself in the process.

His hand pulled away, slowly slipping out from under hers. Their eyes were still locked; his face reflected the effort he was exerting. Then their hands were no longer touching, and the connection was lost. It was like falling backward into an abyss. She clutched at the table and held on until her equilibrium returned. She was breathing hard. So was he. 

A few moments passed and Flynn said, “You’ve still got the goods, Lilith, but I need a chat with Dylan, and you’re gonna take me to him.”

Like hell she was.

Flynn

A riot of smells and sounds again assaulted Flynn’s senses as he followed her through the maze of makeshift shops and food bars that gave The Bazaar its unique character.  

“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” she said, turning around just long enough to glare at him. 

He grinned. “Must be my irresistible charm.”  

He narrowly avoided a rice cooker seated precariously on a wood box. It looked almost as old as the woman behind it. She showed him a toothy grin. 

“You spill it, you buy it,” she said, cackling at him as he sprinted to catch up with Lilith. 

He stoically ignored the small army of beggar children that had attached themselves to him. Some of the men watched him with undisguised suspicion. He was too well dressed, too well fed, not wary enough or worn down enough. He didn’t belong here, and they knew it. Not a good thing. Not in The Rathole. Flynn was a man not easily scared off, but the skin on his back crawled under the eyes of the watchers.

Lilith hissed. “This way. Quickly.” She scanned the crowd behind them, her eyes darting this way and that as though looking for someone or something in particular. Then she turned and disappeared through a narrow opening behind some vertical pipes. Flynn would have missed it. He followed her, glad to leave the crowd of suspicious eyes behind.

They moved down a narrow corridor, passing several side passages before Lilith turned into one of them, then another, and another. Flynn was no longer on familiar ground. If not for Lilith, he would be thoroughly lost. Pipes and conduits ran exposed along the ceilings. He found himself dodging boxes and broken furniture and trash, lots of trash. 

Then they were in a medium-sized room. Flynn skidded to a stop, nearly colliding with Lilith. Three men and a woman stood facing them, spread out around the room. Two of the men had knives; the third man and the woman had guns. Guns were rare on Terra One, even in The Rathole.

The woman spoke, her voice raspy like a file scraping metal. “Well, well. Lookee what we have here.”    

Trinity

Trinity propped her head up on one arm and studied Jason’s sleeping face. He was as she remembered him: good company, easy on the eyes, an attentive lover, still snored. He had once asked her to marry him, but she had said no. She was a spacer, he was a stationer. She would be away more often than not. With Flynn. She couldn’t see how that would work.

When she got back to her apartment, she found two police officers standing outside waiting for her. Jameson Macintyre she knew, but she didn’t recognize the woman. She let them in and invited them to sit while she took a quick shower and put on fresh clothes.

Macintyre introduced the woman. “This is my partner, Ella Freeman.” Ella looked uncomfortable.

Trinity acknowledged her with a nod and turned her attention back to Jameson, who was obviously the one in charge. “You wouldn’t be here at seven o’clock in the morning unless you had some bad news for me.”

He sighed. “When did you last see your sister?”

She tilted her head to one side. “Serenity? I haven’t seen her or even heard from her in, I don’t know, eight or nine years?”

“She’s dead.” He said it matter-of-factly, almost coldly, but conflicting emotions played across his face. He had been one of Serenity’s few friends on Terra One. 

She leaned back in her chair and looked at the ceiling. So Serenity was gone. Twins — especially identical twins — were supposed to sense things like that, but she hadn’t. Her sister had made some poor choices in her life, the biggest being her decision to follow Bront Leyton to the Rings. Trinity had tried to talk her out of it. Nothing that started with the Leyton Family ever ended well.

Jameson said, “One of Leyton’s people brought her body back. That was two months ago.”

“Oh.” It was all she could think to say. She was alone now. Their parents had died just before their seventeenth birthday, and they didn’t have any other family. She swallowed the lump in her throat. There would be time for grieving later.

She heard herself ask, “Do you know what happened?”

“The man who returned her body said a seal blew on the ship she was on and sucked several crew members out, including her.”

Trinity nodded. That happened sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. Space was an unforgiving mistress. One mistake and you were gone. She felt herself disengaging from the conversation, as though it was about someone else.

The Freeman woman leaned forward on the edge of the couch. “Ms. Byzantium, I am truly sorry for your loss, but there is something else you need to know.”

Trinity focused on her.

“There is a child. A nine year old girl.”

A child? Serenity had a child? She struggled to wrap her mind around that. That and the fact that she was the child’s only living relative. Her world flipped upside-down, then right-side up again. Only now everything was different.

* * *

Trinity watched in awe through the one-way window. The girl in red overalls, shoeless, flitted around the exercise room like a butterfly; long blond hair racing along behind; thin fingers barely touching the surfaces of the various brightly colored obstacles that filled the space; deftly navigating in three dimensions as though it was the most natural thing in the world. For her it was. She had lived her entire life in zero gravity, which was why she was quartered in the Zeegee section of the station. She wouldn’t be able to walk in Terra One’s normal gravity without help. But here she could fly. Here she was in her element and it showed in her toothy grin. 

The woman floating beside Trinity said, “We don’t get many Zeegees. The occasional visitor from the Rings, but that’s about it. Even then, they pretty much keep to their ships. They’re clannish that way. Cinnamon has been here for two months. Showed up with her mother’s corpse. She doesn’t have anyone to take her in.”

Trinity continued staring at her sister’s child, still trying to wrap her mind around it. “Cinnamon Byzantium,” she murmured.

“Yes,” the woman said, thinking Trinity was talking to her. “At least that’s what was written on the name tag pinned to her shirt sleeve.”

“Is it just me?” Trinity said. “Or is she an unusually beautiful child?”

Trinity had been around Zeegees often enough to be used to the physiological effects of zero-gee on their bodies: the abnormally large head and upper body, the thin, frail-looking lower body and legs, the delicate bone structure. None of that bothered her like it did some people. Some people thought of Zeegees as unnatural, a disturbance in the proper order of things. 

She heard the woman’s smile in her voice. “For a Zeegee, yes. That’s the first thing everyone notices once they get past the obvious physiological differences. The second thing they notice is that she’s highly intelligent. Assuming you can get her to talk.”

“Oh?” Trinity turned toward the woman. “Does she not talk? Does she have some kind of disability? Emotional trauma?” Not that she would blame the girl if she did. After all, she had come home with her mother’s corpse. That might be enough to make any child stop talking.

The woman said, “No, she doesn’t have any disabilities; physical or psychological. She has a child psychologist assigned to her, of course. He says she seems to understand social situations well enough. And she can be quite engaging in the right circumstances. But for the most part, she keeps to herself. It’s almost like she lives in her own world and only comes out when she wants to.”

Trinity turned back to watch her niece again. “Does she know about me?”

“We thought it better not to tell her about you until . . . you know . . . until you decide what you want to do with her.”
It was a good question. One to which Trinity did not have a good answer.

Oz

Oz gazed out over the wheat field undulating in a light breeze. He didn’t know anything about farming, but the full heads on the stalks made him think it must be about time to harvest this field. Other fields with different crops were visible in the distance, curving upward as they followed a kilometer-wide strip up the inner surface of the O’Neill Cylinder. If he followed the curve further, he would eventually find himself looking straight up and would see the fields and farms on the opposite side of the cylinder, looking like they were going to fall on top of him. 

Most of Terra One’s food came from the agricultural world ships Rongo and Shennong, but Terra One grew some of its own food as well. All of the colonies did. They had learned from the Trade Wars the risks of being too dependent on the other colonies. 

“How long has he been dead?” he asked Rae Ann.

“Bio scan puts it between 16 and 20 hours.”

“Cause of death?”

She frowned. “TBD.”

“To be determined?” This was only the third time he had heard the ME say that. She did not like indeterminate causes of death. She took it personally; as though the corpse was intentionally hiding something from her.

“No obvious injuries. No external trauma at all as far as I can tell.” She started packing her instruments into their case. “I can’t find any internal trauma either. He didn’t die of a heart attack or a stroke or anything like that. No unusual substances in his blood. We’ll run more tests when we get him back to the lab, but based on what I’m seeing here, this guy should not be dead.”

She stopped and looked him in the eye. “But here’s the weird thing.”

She pulled the sheet back from the dead man’s face. Oz stepped back and then caught himself. The man’s glazed eyes were wide open, and he was grinning. Oz’s initial shock came not so much from the grinning corpse, but from the fact that this was not the first one he had seen.

“Just like the others,” he said. 

“Yeah.”

“Got an ID?” 

“His chip says he’s Dominic Prelander. A miner back from his first stint in the Belt. Worked for Radfeller Mining on Vesta. He was just a kid.”

Oz bent down to examine the young man’s face more closely. “And you’re sure there are no signs of physical trauma; inside or out.”

“Of course I’m sure.” She snapped. “But like I said, I’ll have to verify everything when we get the body back to the lab.”

Oz ran his finger along the man’s forehead, and then along the bridge of his nose. 

“What are you thinking, Oz?”

The old detective’s knees made a popping sound when he straightened up. “I’m thinkin’ he didn’t die here. Whoever killed him carried his body here, probably from down below.” 

“That’s what the forensic evidence. How did you know?”

“Because I know how he died, and it likely wasn’t here. What I don’t know is who killed him. Or, to be more precise, who took his life.” 

  He stared out over the wheat field. Rae Ann waited. He liked that about her. They had worked a lot of cases together over the years, and she had learned to give him what she called his “musing” space. A few crows took up station in a nearby copse. Crows. Crows in space. What idiot thought that was a good idea?

He pointed at a closed utility hatch built into the ground. “Have someone take a look at that utility tunnel over there. Let me know what they find.”

He turned and walked away, leaving her staring blankly after him.

* * *

Oz’s office had a desk with a comfortable chair, two not-so-comfortable chairs in front of the desk, and two narrow tables along the walls. All available space, with the exception of the comfortable chair, was hidden under an assortment of printouts, folders, boxes, clothing, several hats, two overcoats, and so on. He was pouring over the contents of an old, yellow folder when Graham Perch stuck his head in.

“Whatcha workin’ on, Oz?”

“Old, unsolved cases.”

“I see,” Perch said, though Oz doubted it. “Well, I’m headin’ home. See you tomorrow.” He waited a few seconds and then turned to leave.

“Hey Perch, you got a minute?”

Perch looked like he’d rather head for home, but he pushed a box off a chair and sat.

“Murder today,” Oz said. “A kid from the mines on Vesta.”

“I heard Rae Ann isn’t ready to call it a murder yet. In fact, she’s pretty upset that she can’t come up with a difinitive COD.”

“Yeah well, I don’t think she will either.”

“Why not?”

“Old, unsolved cases.”

Perch waited for the old man to explain himself.

“I have here two other unsolved deaths,” he said, holding up the folder. “One six months ago and another ten months ago. Same MO. That’s here on Terra One. I’ve got the case notes for several others on Ceres and at Mars City. I’ll bet if I do a little more digging, I’ll find some more in other places around the system.”

Perch was paying attention now. “All with no COD.”

“Yep.”

“Anything else in common?”

Oz rubbed his eyes. He had been at this all day. “Other than the big grins? Just one thing. It’s as though each of them had the life sucked out of him. Like someone took their lives from them … literally.”

“You’re thinking it’s a serial killer.”

Oz stared off into space. “I’m gonna find out where exactly this kid died, and then how exactly he died. Then I’m gonna find out who . . . or what . . . exactly took his life.”