CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" JOULES "
Transit around the Lagrange system of stations in Lunar orbit was easy enough for most people. The presiding belief being that once you’d cleared initial entry you were no longer a security risk and could hop a shuttle to any other station as easily as one would board a terrestrial bus.* * *
It was a little harder for someone living off the registry. A normal person could’ve made the trip from Station One to Station Five in less than twenty minutes; Gilmore knew he couldn’t possibly do it in less than two hours.
It would take that long to find the right mode of transport, nothing Network run for sure; insinuate his way into the service crew, slow down the conveyor so he could space out the containers enough to slip between them and then secure himself somewhere on board so that he wouldn’t be discovered or exposed to deep space.
And because Industrial transports weren’t on the same schedules – it took them longer to clear port than the Trans-Elliptical Shuttle would take crossing the distance – Gilmore found a nice spot in the lower hold and huddled in for the wait wondering if Joules would return before he even made it back home. Heck, he thought, she might even beat him there.
Joules came too with the sudden abruptness of rain pelting against her face and no idea how long she'd been out. She shook her head, a bad idea that made the stars swim harder and the throbbing increase in intensity. She rolled over, trying to get her bearings and landed palms first in slick mud.
Joules hated getting her hands dirty and detested goop of any variety, that’s what friends were for. She tried in vain to clear her hands as she rose, kneeling on the increasingly wet grasslands, in a glade under a dark and thundering sky.
Nearby were El Bazaar’s crates. Powered down, and metallic enough that Joules didn’t want to be near them in this storm. She looked at the nearby grove, the spot in fact where the additional people had probably been hiding until she landed. Something from her childhood reminded her that trees were not wise cover in a thunderstorm either.
But she needed cover. The slightest breeze cut through her like an icy blast with this cold driving rain. That left the wagon. She hobbled to her feet and pushed through the cascade of water blindly, stopping when she bumped into the wooden side of the abandoned cart.
In the bed of it she saw a canvas tarp and figured that even though she and it were wet it might help protect her from the wind and retain some of the last vestiges of warmth her body could generate.
She grabbed it, wrestled it free, and then dragged it with her beneath the wooden vehicle, wrapped it around her, over her head even, as she huddled between the wheels for shelter.
It wasn’t pleasant but it was a vast improvement. Then as she crouched there, shivering, jumping in fright at the pounding resonate thunderclaps and blinding flashes of light all around her, her face screwed up tightly with a coursing rage while she entertained what revenge would look like.
She’d need Gilmore’s help; first to help to find the Starbus. Problem was he was nearly 400,000 kilometres overhead and she was almost a thousand miles from civilization.
* * *
Like any ‘Spacer’ Gilmore felt most at home on one of the Lagrange Stations. Specifically Lagrange Five, the place of his birth. Less than five minutes after the Freighter docked with that Station Gilmore had arrived in the cozy confines of his hidden space, what Joules jokingly referred to as his ‘loft’.
Fifty years earlier this space was the housing platform for the Primary Construction Crew of this station. His mother, Chief Foreman of that crew had used the loyalty of her all women squad to fudge the deck below almost half a metre, enough to retain standing room in this space, what should’ve been dead air bulkhead at the top of the B Office Cluster, and more importantly, enough to keep it off the specs and floor plans.
Why they’d done that he could only guess. Perhaps she had been pregnant with him and her squad was simply protecting her, creating a nest for the coming arrival. She’d passed away long before he’d thought to ask and the others had rotated off many times over, to the point where he wouldn’t know who to ask even if he could find them.
But the space had somehow remained a secret. The airlock they’d launch from for that day’s work was covered by the same generic panels that covered most of the station, retractable of course. They’d even extended a parking track – a sideline off the main shaft where an elevator could park without blocking traffic – right into this space. It was a literal door-to-door service, a service that Gilmore remembered when the need to disappear had made itself evident a few years ago.
Of course, it took Gilmore’s skills to hack Operations and insert the sub-routines that let him board and ride elevators without being tracked. It took his genius to re-circuit the deck so it could handle the hodgepodge of gear he was constantly tinkering with. And it took his friends, the few he could trust enough to bring to this inner sanctum to ‘homey’ the place up with all the modern amenities.
The elevator car began powering down as soon as the doors opened to this space, and Gilmore stepped from it fully expecting Joule to leap out and give him a heart attack. But instead the deck was quiet and the overhead display that would mark any visitors was dark. No one was here but him.
She’d probably stopped somewhere to do some shopping, he thought half out loud as he approached his workbench while reaching into his pocket.
"Fair enough," he said as he removed the stone she’d given him, it would give him more time to crack this puzzle.
The Hammersmith Spectronomy Unit hummed as the stone sat beneath it’s array and while it did Gilmore removed his cap and coveralls, changing into more relaxing gear now that he was beyond the “eyes” of the nation.
The item was a curious little thing but Gilmore had concluded they weren’t actually stones back when he was alone in the bay with the crates. It was a composite material, a very dense composite material. That part wasn’t a surprise, he’d already worked out the density but the molecular confirmation was intriguing because unless it was nearly hollow the item should weigh much more than it did.
The image painted on it was mass produced, but in a way to look hand made. There was nothing special about that. The paint itself was a chromium material and as Gilmore touched it he could feel some give to the painted area. He didn’t want to push it; he didn’t want to damage the item before he figured out what it was.
A nearly hollow composite material, shaped to look like a simple stone, painted with a symbol in a manner reminiscent of a North American First Nation’s tribe, Lakota to be precise. But what would be the point of that? Anyone anywhere could produce thousands of rocks for a fraction of the price by simply using plain rocks. It’s not like planet earth had a shortage of those.
He concluded the symbol was aesthetic. But it still begged the original question. Why put it on a nearly hollow synthetic rock? And what did the density have to do with it?
Gilmore looked at that further. He couldn’t get a molecular reading off the material. It seemed to absorb every erg of energy. That might be the point; maybe it was a nuclear material, for shielding or something. Maybe making them look like rocks was the cover being used for transport?
Or maybe it was designed to absorb energy, lots of energy, enough to reach a critical mass. Gilmore was more than a little hesitant about testing out that theory.
He reached for the wavelength adjustments and set them to channel through increasingly higher frequencies starting with nothing. Perhaps one of these wavelengths would see through this material and give him an idea what was inside. Whatever this stuff was it had to resonate with something, perhaps, like Edison and the light bulb filament, the mystery would be solved through the age-old method of perspiration.
At exactly 320 megahertz a dead zone bloomed around the stone and by 321 it had become an alarming darkness. It was in fact fifty times larger than the rock was. Odd. 321 megahertz was an extremely low frequency, long abandoned for radar and scanning because of its slow return, low penetration rate and poor resolution.
Yet the rock absorbed this and only this frequency because by 322 the bloom evaporated like a time-lapse recording of fog dissipating. Gilmore was stunned. What could be the point of that?
* * *
By the time the storm has passed and the rain had become a light drizzle Joules had determined her next course of action. She climbed out from under the cart and moved to one of the crates.
It took a bit to access the interface and a little more to get it toggled down to a mere hover before activating the Grav-Plates. The device was designed for low altitude drops, set to compensate for a free falls from hundreds of metres in the air, locate and guide itself to a pre-programmed landing zone.
Joules didn't want it rocketing skyward, although if she thought someone was near enough to see the flare she'd do it. Instead she was hoping that a ground effect hover would consume the fuel slowly enough she could use the crate as craft.
Having reset the hover to a mere half metre she guided it toward the grove where, after a moment’s hunting she found enough bramble and bush to cache the contents.
Joules then moved upwind of the crate as she triggered it to open hoping that if El Bazaar has laced the container with a sedative or toxin that it would blow away from her.
There was a puff, but so long as Joules wasn’t on the receiving end of things she wasn’t interested in it. She pulled the two leaves open, exposing the contents and then began unloading them into the cache she’d created.
Twenty minutes later the crate was empty. She guided it back out into the rain, letting the bottom fill up, hoping to wash out whatever residue remained.
She brought it back under the tree cover and then wiped it as best she could with a leafy branch. Now came the tricky part. With only the tools she could makeshift from the accoutrements of her clothes, specifically a lock picking tool hidden in her KeyComm, Joules pried free the controlling mechanism for the container and removed the backing so she could reset the console.
Then she customized the touch display into the helm controls for the crate. Finally, she took the tarp and fastened it over the container frame so that the hanging leaves held the tarp taut while covering her inside and providing the clear view she needed to steer the unit.
A little more than an hour after starting Joules, crouched inside the modified lower deck container, departed the glen at the alarming pace of seventeen kilometres an hour. If her recollection held she was only a couple hundred kilometres from a settlement of some type.
She was pretty sure she’d seen it on final approach, a good-sized village or maybe even a small city. Someplace she hoped would have contact with the outside world. Provided she wasn’t heading in the wrong direction she should be there within the day, and then the second phase of her plan for revenge would begin.
* * *