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chapter eleven
" KEEN "
Part Two

Normally Gilmore wouldn't be worrying about Joules, because normally she'd be on one of her jaunts and he'd be doing his own thing while waiting the next, new adventure to call upon him. That wasn't the case this time and Gilmore was very worried.

Joules had called him in to help install the Quad-Boosters in her Starbus and she'd left without the testing stage, a final controlled sequence that would help adjust the power through the new systems to ensure maximum efficiency. Joules wasn't the sort to forget that, or ignore something as critical as this, despite the urgency of her trip.

And each time Gilmore had checked the status board, a passive feed from the general network, he saw no update, no new flight plan for his friend and no motion by her Starbus.

Now, admittedly there weren't tracking assets over Buffalo Commons, at least not many of them, and any vehicle idents that entered that zone ended up having their static blips halt at their last reference spot, which didn't mean that the vehicle was idle or even in trouble. But it did mean that her Starbus still hadn't left the Commons and that was odd because it was nearing the end of the second day.

It was a straight drop off, of her passengers and the crates. She should've been back yesterday; she should've been back before he could make his way from Station Two to Five.

As he came up on the 39th hour since she departed Gilmore was near panic, and yet helpless to do much more. Although he could get around Lagrange space easy enough, and in a pinch down to Earth, much as he dreaded that, Gilmore had to do it through a rather limited number of channels, in order to ensure he remained off the grid.

Mounting a bold rescue into the Commons was well beyond his ken. And because he couldn't do any active searches through the Network, lest he trigger his presence, he couldn't even retask a scanner to find her. Until she showed up somewhere in the massive database he was stuck.

But something was up, he knew it. Those 'others' that showed up that morning for the trip down, he'd had a bad feeling about them, he didn't trust Poddington and now he was worried about Joules.

With nothing to do that was useful Gilmore tried to fill the hours with the useless. He turned back to the odd rock Joules had given him. The same from the Middle Eastern agent named El Bazaar that her two crates were full of.

The composite material the rocks were made of absorbed 321 megahertz with such intensity that Gilmore originally worried the point of the material was to build up critical mass and detonate. But with each hour he bombarded the sample with more and more of the energy without even the slightest tick in temperature.

He even took the rock with him as he went on his walk-about, a brief respite from the confines of his “loft” where he wandered around Lagrange Five checking in on his friends and ensuring that all was right in the world while he gathered what he needed for his intellectual pursuits.

His friend Davy was the best source for this sort of stuff. Mostly because he ran a legitimate business on the lower deck, industrial section of the Life Wheel's MALLWAY, and partly because his business was importing custom components needed for various space vehicles and hobbyist.

It nearly guaranteed the occasional odd item, component or array could be ordered and delivered without raising the slightest eyebrow in any system, particularly a system whose primary filter was searching for unusual behaviour.

But as Gilmore came around the nearest Elevator Cluster – a cluster that seemed to permanently be out of order – and down the only staircase along the Mallway – a quirk of engineering resulting from a slight miscalculation during construction that wasn't discovered until the two ends were being brought together – that he saw the two Station Police Constables at Davy's shop.

Gilmore immediately diverted his attention and rushed through the portal of the shop beside Davy's. Gilmore stopped just inside the threshold and hid around the corner using one of the reflective strips in the door frame as a mirror so he could keep an eye on the two Officers.

No doubt they were just canvassing, surely the would've already arrested Davy if he had been caught with something, at the very least they would've closed his store to investigate. Gilmore didn't worry they were a trap for him, if it was they pretty stupid to lay it right out in the open like that. Besides, who knew he was even alive?

“Hello Honey, what can we do for you today?”

Gilmore froze, it was a sultry voice, the sort that stirred up passions and it was right behind him. It had been a very long time since anyone had talked to him that way, 'cept for Joules when she wanted something, and because of the lag Gilmore really didn't know what to say.

Gilmore turned slowly while trying to keep the reflection and the two Officers in view.

“You know,” she continued, “if you're trying not to raise suspicion you might want to avoid acting suspiciously.”

Gilmore's attention immediately left the reflection and focused on her. It hadn't occurred to him this person would out him. He chastised himself for that lapse.

“I'm sorry?” He said hoping to bide some time while sneaking a peek at the police again.

She moved closer to him. She was a middle-aged woman with an air of lavender about her and a softness that should have been more alluring.

“I'm not used to be ignored. It must be pretty serious.” Even her breath was sweet, as she got close enough that Gilmore could smell it. It was becoming harder to keep his mind on the potential threat outside because the inside was seductively distracting.

Why was that? What sort of store was this? Gilmore stopped his Cop-Watch long enough to take in this location. He'd passed it a thousand times on his way to Davy's but had never paid much attention to it because the store front was so nondescript.

He now realized why. It wasn't a store, it was a parlour and she wasn't a store owner, she'd what they used to call a Madame. At least Gilmore hoped so because he couldn't imagine many other businesses where the owner walked around in a frilly and rather sheer nightie.

“I – I – I…” Now was a bad time to develop a stammer but he didn't know what to say yet knew he had to think of something, so he filled the void with “I was just passing by and, and, and I – I – I.”

His train of thought was derailed as he caught sight of two blondes and a red head standing in a door frame at the back of the parlour. All three were very supple, inviting and in various stages of undress.

“It's all right, Honey.” She continued softly, invitingly, calmly. It didn't have that effect on him. She, the Madame, shifted herself putting more focus on the trio, “We're not going to bite.”

“Unless that's what you want,” Said the short-haired blonde wearing clothing everywhere except where it was generally accepted.

Gilmore gulped. He was about to turn and run and she knew that which is why the loose grip on his upper arm tightened keeping him from moving as she leaned in and whispered, “Don't move because they're right behind us.”

Gilmore froze and glanced at the mirrors on either side of the rear door frame where the trio of temptresses stood. He could see the two Station Constables standing ten metres back and enjoying the view, not of him but of the women he faced.

“Don't worry,” she said anticipating what she thought was his concern, “This is all legal up here. They won't bother us.”

After a moment the more senior Constable one nudged his partner and they both moved off. Gilmore let out a sigh of relief. The Mistress turned back to him as the three mavens disappeared, “A much more pleasant way to avert suspicion, don't you agree?”

Gilmore was stunned by her perceptivity. “How..?” was all he could stammer out.

“I've seen you before, you visit Davy's once a week.” She winked, “Besides, usually when someone ducks in here they're facing us.”

Gilmore nodded in thanks although he was a little unnerved. If she'd seen him coming and going, how many others could place him here as well? He'd have to change his routine and approach, maybe come to Davy's by the lower deck instead.

Sensing his concern she spoke, “Relax, Honey. I spend my whole day looking for customers and reading those who walk past. You'd be surprised what I could tell you.”

Indeed, Gilmore thought. “Well.” He stammered again, “Thank you for, for…” He nodded, she knew. She nodded confirming. Gilmore started to move out but stopped as she spoke again.

“You know, sometimes a man can't get what he wants at home.”

Gilmore turned to her, if only she knew how foreign all this was to him. Even the cravings she stirred were as alien as the surface of Earth to this Spacer. Not wanting to seem inhospitable, or as naïve as he really was, Gilmore stammered a hesitant “Thank you.”

He left as quickly as possible, so quickly he didn't hear her add, “First visit's free…”

* * *

Davy hadn't received his order yet so Gilmore returned to his loft without the by-pass components that would allow him to scan other spectrums at greater detail. He'd already augmented his existing systems as well as possible, without additional components he was at a dead-end on his research.

He picked up his ad hock scanner, the one he'd coupled with the low frequency emitter to test a theory out. He switched it on and began to wave it around casually. At each time it registered something he ran a second pass more slowly and from multiple vectors.

Eventually he'd isolated four “hits”. Using his interface Gilmore calculated the angles of each. Three of them were nearly on top of each other. One was at a radically different angle and much larger.

Filtering the signals further through his interface Gilmore was able to determine a few things. The first was that the radically different angle was the stone Joules had given him, the stone which he'd deliberately left in Davy's store to run this test.

He knew that because it was the only “hit” that was moving. Being on the Life Wheel, the rotating central disk below him, the signal was moving at a relative speed of one millimeter per second.

Two of the other signals were weaker. The final one was quite a bit weaker still, after calculating the relative distance Gilmore concluded the two middle signals were on Earth in Buffalo Commons, currently directly below him.

The final signal, using the distance and drop off to the middle two as base, was approximately ten thousand kilometers further. That could put this signal near Egypt, which made sense as that's where Joules had first picked up the crates. No doubt this would be the manufacturing plant, but wait...

It didn't makes sense that he could pick up these signals from this great distance using passive sensors, unless the areas were already being bombarded with this frequency and unless that was happening in large scale. Unless what Gilmore was picking up at this distance was, in fact, large clusters of the rocks.

Joules had two crates with her. Both were full. Would that be enough to register at this distance? Hardly. So the area was being bombarded with low frequency signals. And these must be the clusters, the two containers in Joules' case and the manufacturing or storage area in El Bazaar's.

It took only a few more minutes for Gilmore to calculate the precise distance and signal strength it would take from Low Earth Orbit to find a single stone. So they were markers, low tech markers that would allow anyone with this knowledge to locate anyone in possession of these stones.

Which answered two questions for Gilmore, the stones in the Commons were still clustered together but they weren't moving, and it raised three more questions. Why wasn't the Starbus moving? Or if the cargo wasn't in the Starbus anymore why wasn't the cargo moving? And what had happened to Joules?

Renewed worry filled Gilmore.

* * *