A Long Night in Hell
Copyright 2017 Jack Stornoway
Published by the Jack Stornoway at at Shakespir
The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he’d worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties. He’d decided then that he never wanted to return to one, fortunately he wouldn’t be in this one long. But that mine in Hussy had only been two kilometres below the surface of Mars, this mine was almost twelve.
At the mine in Hussy he rode an elevator like this one twice each day, but here the miners lived below. Agni Mining Station was a small self-contained town at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He reached up and wiped the sweat from his brow. He’d only been in the elevator a few minutes, and already his clothes were soaked with sweat, and he was developing a headache. He opened his jacket hoping the sweat would evaporate, and in the process exposed the butt of the pistol in his shoulder holster.
“Careful with that glock,” the thin, short man sitting across the elevator said in a European accent. “They’ll lock you up if they catch you with a gun down there.”
“Right, thanks,” Akers replied in his British accent and closed his jacket.
“Herminius Schwinghammer,” the thin man introduced himself. “Call me Zeus.”
“Zeus?” Akers asked.
“My middle name,” Zeus explained. “Herminius Schwinghammer is a mouthful. I am from Ulysses District, up in Pavonis Region. Old European mining colony, lots of long names up there. I haven’t seen you down here before. New?”
“Just visiting,” Akers answered. “You work down here?”
“Me? No, I’m a Justice with the Bureau of Corporate Affairs,” Zeus stated. “I visit here once a month to check that the Bharat Zirconium Corporation is staying within its mandate. I was just leaving the CMZ when I got word of the homicide and had to come back.”
“Is it this hot down below?” Akers asked.
“Even hotter,” Zeus answered. “Believe it or not, you get used to it. I even look forward to it sometimes, when it is too cold up top.”
“I can’t imagine looking forward to this,” Akers stated. At the mine in Hussy the elevator had gone straight down into the mine, and the ride only took a few minutes. This elevator travelled down the old mineshaft, abruptly changing direction every few minutes with a grinding jolt. Bharat Zirconium had been mining this vein for a century and a half, it was one of the Solar System’s primary sources of Zirconium and a major source of Titanium. The mine predated the Mars Treaty a century earlier which had put the region under the Sudamérican Colonial Authority. Bharat Zirconium was awarded a Corporate Mining Zone, autonomous from Sudamérican authority and taxation, know as the Madhabani CMZ.
Since the revolution a decade earlier the newly independent Ares Confederacy had left the Corporate Mining Zones more or less intact. The Bharat Zirconium Corporation had once been an Indian Corporation, before India had been annexed by the Singapore Conglomerate. Now Bharat Zirconium, and its CMZ, were under the authority and taxation of the Singapore Conglomerate, one of the Earth’s most powerful corporate governments. All of the Corporate Mining Zones fell under the authority and taxation of one the Earth governments, and the young Ares Confederacy didn’t want to risk a war with any of them by interfering too much with the mines. It was a touchy subject as the Confederacy had rejected capitalism, which was the basis of the Mars Treaty and the Corporate Mining Zones.
Up on the surface the CMZ had grown into a city of over a hundred thousand, all under the authority of Bharat Zirconium. The CMZ maintained its own legal system, its own corporate registry, its own tax regime, its own police force, even its own currency, the Madhabani Rupee. It was effectively a state within a state, and as none of the Earth governments had yet to recognize the independence of the Confederacy, a political hot-potato. A problem in a CMZ could theoretically be used as an excuse for an Earth government to invade the Confederacy.
The elevator dropped suddenly jarring Akers back to the reality of this elevator ride. Across the elevator a woman groaned, obviously experiencing motion sickness. She was young, maybe twenty-five, with a light brown complexion, short cut hair dyed blue, and large dark eyes. Her skin was that faded greyish-brown of a Mars-born. The Earth-born all had richer darker skin shades. Akers had noticed her when he got onto into the elevator. She didn’t look like miner, everyone else on the elevator looked like they belonged on it, everyone except this Justice Schwinghammer. He was most likely on the elevator for the same reason as Akers. His suit made it clear he wasn’t a miner, he was a bureaucrat. Anywhere else, his suit would indicate he worked for a corporation. Here it meant he worked for either Bharat Zirconium or the Confederacy, and it was unlikely a corporate bureaucrat would ever go down to the mines. Akers’ guess had been correct, a government bureaucrat.
The air conditioning system in the elevator whined, its pitch shifting as the elevator made its way down the shaft. Outside the air-pressure was increasing, by the time they reached the station it was higher than the air-pressure inside the elevator. The elevator doors hissed opened to a world as hot as the inside of the elevator, and the miners all got up and started clambering out. Akers remained in his seat, and checked his com, the temperature was over forty degrees Celsius. As the miners cleared the elevator Akers saw that Zeus had also remained in his seat; the young woman had apparently left with the miners.
“Time to go to work,” Zeus said slipping a com into his pocket and standing up. Akers wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question. He followed Zeus out of the elevator into a passage-way that led to a large dome-topped promenade two stories high, with doors and passageways branching in every direction. In the dome above them an image of a blue sky with white wispy clouds was being projected, an odd looking thing for someone born on Mars. Akers realized that this was it, the Chhatri, the largest open area in Agni Station, it seemed cramped compared to its description in the corporate brochure, probably because of the unnatural colour of the sky. Several dozen people were roaming around the promenade, most were probably in cooler areas, assuming there were any.
One of the doors had a Yama Hotel sign lit up on one side of it, and presumably the same thing written in the local script on the other side. Akers couldn’t read the local script, but knew from his pre-case research it was Odia, a language from India. Akers walked into the microscopic lobby of the hotel, which was essentially just a passage with a concierge computer screen on one wall. He stopped at the concierge screen and stated, “English interface. Room for Sherlock Holmes.”
“One single for Sherlock Holmes Detective Agency of Manchester, Hussy District,” the Concierge computer replied in English with a Singapore accent. “Booked until further notice. Room Number Two. First door on the right.”
“Room Two?” Akers muttered to himself as he walked down the narrow hallway. “Busy place.”
The room was almost as small as the lobby, just a bed with computer screen on one wall. Somewhere down the passageway there would be a communal washroom. Akers dropped the small bag he was carrying on the bed, glad he’d packed light. He turned to the computer screen and adjusted the air-conditioning for the room to the maximum and agreed to pay the extra cost, then headed down the passageway for a shower. The shower was cool and refreshing, but everything else was still sweltering. When he got back to the hotel room the temperature was down to thirty degrees Celsius., which suddenly seemed cold in comparison to the hallway. He set the air-conditioning to stay at that temperature, and headed out to find something to eat.
The food in Madhabani CMZ was said to be some of the best on Mars, and he’d been looking forward to it, but he was now wondering how good it would be down here in the heat of Agni Station. He stepped back out into the Chhatri and looked around, most of the signs were in Odia, a few were also in Spanish. Restaurante Barfi, that was probably a restaurant but didn’t sound very appealing. Cafetería Golguppa, that didn’t sound very appealing either. Chicken Frankies, that was in English, a good sign, Akers’ Spanish was poor, and his Odia was non-existent.
Inside Chicken Frankies the temperature was noticeably cooler than outside in the Chhatri. It looked like it was part of some kind of fast-food chain, although Akers had never heard of it. The restaurant had a series of booths on one side and a bar along on the other side. About half the booths were occupied by miners, but there were only a few people at the bar. Akers sat down at the bar and looked at the menu screen on the counter, choosing English from the language options. Most of the menu was dedicated to something like a burrito, which could be filled with chicken, tofu, felafel, or garbanzo beans. There were also fresh salads, frozen yogurts, frozen soy-creams, and mango juice.
It was more variety than Akers was used to seeing on a menu, and this was just a fast-food joint. The waitress didn’t know a word of English except Chicken, but did know some Spanish so he was able to order. He ordered a spinach salad, it came with some kind of cheese on top, and sour cream on the side, something he’d never had before. In Hussy Crater cheese was a delicacy and sour cream unheard of, here it was a condiment. He ordered one of the tofu Frankies, a type of curried-flat bread burrito stuffed with vegetables and spiced tofu, with a side of rice before heading out to find the local police station.
The Madhabani Corporate Police office wasn’t much bigger than the hotel lobby, with just enough room for one desk, and a door leading to the back, where Akers assumed the holding cell was. No one was in the office so Akers consulted the receptionist computer screen and was informed that Constable Jain was at a business called Barra de Navin. Akers knew enough Spanish to know it was a bar, an odd place for a police officer in the early afternoon.
The bar was easy enough to find, it had an entrance in the Chhatri not far from the police office. For early in the afternoon the bar was surprisingly busy. A few of the patrons looked up when he entered and then returned to their drinks, the one in the police uniform put her drink down and watched him walk over and sit at the bar next to her, he obviously seemed out of place. He was dressed more or less like the miners did back in Hussy, but in Hussy the attire was European, and here it was Indian, and there was less of it. His skin colour was also out of place, he was the only white person in the bar, everyone else was some shade of brown. The bar itself looked like something from video-game set in Mexico sometime in the 1800s, likely another franchise.
“Constable Jain?” Akers asked taking the seat next to her.
“Haan,” the police woman replied. She was tall, thin woman of Indian ancestry.
“Do you speak English?” Akers asked.
“Of course, I am from Uttar Pradesh,” the police woman answered indignantly in a strong Indian accent.
“You are Constable Jain?” Akers asked again.
“Yes,” Constable Jain answered.
Akers pulled out his ID and showed it to the constable. “Sherlock Holmes Detective Agency. We’ve been contracted by the Confederacy to look into the death of Aseem Jitendra Darzi.”
“The case is closed,” the constable stated. “The murderer is already in custody.”
“I know, but he’s an Arean citizen,” Akers said. “The confederacy wants a neutral party to look over everything. You know, politics.”
“Of course, politics,” Constable Jain said with a sigh. “I have had nothing but calls from corporate bureaucrats since the murder.”
“The Confederate Senate forwarded me your preliminary report,” Akers stated. “Everything looks in order. I’ll just need to go through the process.”
The Constable lifted her drink to her lips and sipped it before responding. “Well, if that is what we have to do. But you might have noticed it is hot down here, and I am going to finish my drink. I recommend you have one too.”
“That’s a good idea,” Akers admitted. “I don’t know how you put up with this heat. Does the bartender speak English?”
“Desi sharab,” Constable Jain ordered for him, and the bartender brought over a mug of something.
“What is it?” Akers asked.
“Cold,” the constable answered. “Don’t worry, it has a low alcohol content. It is the law here because of the heat. You will not get drunk on just one, or probably five, but we do not have the time for five. You want to get done fast, so you can leave this heat, yes?”
“Yes,” Akers answered honestly. The case did seem open and closed, and he did want to get out of the heat as soon as possible.
“Do you plan to talk to Bachchan?” Constable Jain asked. “He’s still in the holding cell, waiting for the Justice and the Ombudsman.”
“Yes I’ll need to interview him,” Akers answered. “If you’re waiting for Justice Schwinghammer, he was in my elevator.”
“Good, then we just have to wait for the Ombudsman from the Bharat Zirconium,” Jain observed. “Do you know the history between these two? Bachchan and Darzi?”
“Not much,” Akers stated. “Bachchan is from the CMZ, Darzi is from India. Darzi replaced Bachchan as the Chief Operating Officer for Bharat Zirconium when he arrived from Earth.”
“Not exactly right,” Constable Jain corrected. “Sri Bachchan is from Madhabani CMZ, and Sri Darzi is from Maharashtra, in what used to be called India, but Sri Darzi worked for Sri Bachchan for five years as Chief Research Officer before taking over. The mine suffered during those years, production dropped, and it looked like Bharat Zirconium was going to go bankrupt. Everything turned around after Sri Darzi was put in charge, the mine started being profitable the first quarter.”
“How’d Darzi do that?” Akers asked.
“He opened a new vein,” Jain answered. “A vein that all of the previous test-drills had shown to be dead.”
“Darzi was in charge of the tests?” Akers assumed.
“Yes,” Jain answered. “And it didn’t take Sri Bachchan long to determine what Sri Darzi had done.”
“And that’s why he killed him?” Akers asked rhetorically.
“Sri Bachchan didn’t just loose his job, and his pride,” the constable continued. “Sri Bachchan was from here, a miner’s son who got educated and worked his way up. He had a traditional family; a wife and daughter. They were ruined. Bharat Zirconium confiscated their bank accounts to compensates the investors for his incompetence. He was to be indentured until he could pay back the losses, which of course he could never do unless he lived a thousand years. His wife committed suicide, and his daughter was expelled from the University of Èkó after her financing disappeared. The entire family was ruined.”
“Well, that’s a cause,” Akers stated. “But, as I understand it, there are no witnesses, and Bachchan claims he’s innocent.”
“I have the murder weapon, found in the Sri Bachchan’s house, and there is the digital evidence!” Constable Jain retorted. “The access logs show Sri Bachchan entering the chamber where Sri Darzi was killed using a counterfeit access pass. He was the only one in there with Sri Darzi.”
“Digital evidence has been faked before, and the gun could have been planted” Akers observed. “The case would be better if there was a confession, or an eye witness.”
“The digital evidence is as good as an eye-witness,” Jain replied. “At least under the Bharat Zirconium Corporate Code, which is the only law that matters here.”
“I don’t doubt you’ll get a conviction with what you have,” Akers stated. “But I’m sure the senate would be happier if I could find something that corroborates it.”
“Well then Sherlock Holmes, let us go visit Sri Bachchan, maybe you can get him to confess,” Constable Jain stated. “The sooner this is done the better.”
The constable didn’t say anything as they walked back to the MCP station, she seemed overtly stressed. When they arrived they found the blue haired young woman from the elevator sitting in one of the two waiting-area chairs next to the door. She stood up as Constable Jain entered and then paused as Akers stepped through the door. The three of them could barely fit into the minuscule waiting area, and the constable quickly stepped around the desk, and then noticed the young woman’s reaction to Akers. “A friend of yours Mr. Holmes?”
“No, she rode the elevator down with me,” Akers answered after a pause while he considered correcting her about his name.
“I am Anantha Bachchan,” the young woman introduced herself to the constable. “I am here to visit my father.”
The two woman switched to a language Akers didn’t understand, presumably Odia or Hindi, and Akers decided to head to the holding cell to talk to Mr. Bachchan. He stepped around the desk to the door at the rear of the office. Constable Jain watched him move towards the door, but didn’t say anything to stop him, so he stepped through. The holding cells were slightly larger than the office, and cooled to below 30 degrees. They looked like they had been setup as holding cells for drunks, one of them was occupied.
“Mr. Bachchan?” Akers asked the middle-aged man in the holding cell. The man was very tall and quite muscular, something rare on Mars, but common in the Madhabani CMZ. Akers himself was shorter than the average Martian, and somewhat overweight, a symptom of the sugar and carb rich diet of Hussy crater. Most Martians had limited access to protein, animals were only raised in a few places on the planet, Madhabani CMZ was one of those places.
“Yes,” Mr Bachchan answered. “English? Are you the Confederate Justice?”
“No, Justice Schwinghammer rode down on the elevator with me,” Akers answered. “I’m a private detective.”
“This is detective Sherlock Holmes,” Constable Jain stated as she joined them in the holding area. “He is working for the Arean Senate. Making sure everything is in order.”
“The Arean Senate?” Anantha Bachchan asked as she joined them in the the small holding area. “Why are they looking into this?”
“I have Arean citizenship,” Mr. Bachchan stated. “Everyone born in Madhabani does. The senate is worried about the Singapore Conglomerate retaliating. Am I right?”
“That’s the central concern,” Akers agreed. “They hired me to check the MCP isn’t railroading you.”
“They are!” Mr. Bachchan cried. “Sri Darzi got what he deserved, but I didn’t do it! I told Roshan- Constable Jain that I didn't do it! ”
Akers’ cybernetic eye-lens measured no discernible increase in Bachchan’s blink-rate and only a slightly elevated heart-rate as anyone would have under these conditions. Conclusion: Bachchan was telling the truth, or at least believed he was. The Ombudsman would no doubt come to the same conclusion. Unfortunate, that meant Akers’ would have to stick around Agni longer than expected.
“So why were you in that chamber where Sri Darzi was killed?” Constable Jain demanded.
“I was not!” Bachchan retorted. “That digital record is a lie!”
Akers’ cybernetic ear-drum couldn’t detect a change in his voice-pitch, more evidence in favour of Bachchan. There was no way he was going to convict himself in front of the Ombudsman.
“So you did not see Sri Darzi down there then?” the constable continued.
“How could I, I was not there!” Bachchan repeated.
“If my father said he was not there, then he was not there!” Anantha stated. At least one person believed him.
“I’ve seen enough,” Akers stated as he turned to leave the holding cells.
“You have not even asked one question of him!” Constable Jain argued.
“What would I question him about? He wasn’t there,” Akers replied. “We should talk to Darzi’s wife. I understand she lives down here?”
“Yes, she lives in their apartment,” the constable stated. “But why question her? She is not a suspect.”
“Are there any other suspects?” Akers asked.
“Why would there be another suspect?” Constable Jain asked. “We have the video evidence of Sri Bachchan entering the chamber Sri Darzi was killed in.”
“So there are no other suspects?” Akers asked.
“No,” the constable confirmed defiantly, “but Shrimati Darzi’s husband was just killed! She has been through-”
“I have to file a report on this,” Akers interrupted. “Now you have only one suspect and no witnesses. How am I supposed to file a report that states I only questioned the one suspect, who insisted he was innocent?”
“You did not even ask him any questions!” Constable Jain argued. “Maybe if you had-”
“I did,” Akers interrupted. “I asked him his name, and he answered very honestly. Now, are you going to tell me where the Darzi’s apartment is? Or should I go ask people in the Chhatri?”
“I will escort you,” the constable decided quickly. “But if you upset Shrimati Darzi I will throw you out of Agni Station! You cannot upset the wife of such an important bureaucrat, especially with the eyes of the entire company on us.”
“I have no interest in upsetting her,” Akers stated. “Just some routine questions.”
“You will prove my father’s innocence Mr. Holmes?” Anantha Bachchan stated as Akers stepped through the door into the MPD office.
Akers paused to look back at the young woman. She looked lost, maybe she doubted her father as well. “I’m sure the evidence will prove who the real killer is.”
A few minutes later Akers and Constable Jain were at the Darzi’s apartment door. It wasn’t a long walk, the Darzi apartment had an entrance on the Chhatri, with a greenhouse above the door. It was possibly the only greenhouse on Mars under a blue sky. Perhaps that was why the Darzis lived in this heat, Akers understood they were both from Earth. As they neared the Darzi’s door, Justice Schwinghammer emerged.
“Hello Zeus, everything in order?” the constable asked they almost collided.
“Yes, I was just consoling Ms. Darzi over the loss of her husband,” the Justice answered. “Everything seems in order with the transfer of stock. I suppose Bharat Zirconium will send a new COO from Earth now?”
“I guess so,” Constable Jain replied. “I have not heard anything about that yet, but why would they tell me?”
“Right,” Zeus dismissed the issue. “Well I’ll be at Cafetería Golguppa for the next hour or so if you’re looking for me.”
“Did you want to talk to Sri Bachchan?” the constable Jain asked.
“The murderer?” Zeus enquired. “Why would I want to talk to him? He has nothing to do with the transfer of stock. I’ll need to speak to the new COO when he or she arrives.”
“Of course, then I will see you later,” the constable stated turning to the door.
Susheela Darzi answered the door as soon as Constable Jain touched the door chime. She must have been waiting inside the door since Zeus left. At 25 degrees the interior of the Darzi’s apartment seemed frigid compared to the almost 50 degrees outside. Clearly Ms. Darzi didn’t like the heat, and she didn’t want it getting in, she ushered them quickly into the apartment before the constable could introduce Akers.
“This is detective Sherlock Holmes from the Confederacy,” Constable Jain stated as soon as they were inside the apartment. “He’s reviewing the evidence against Sri Bachchan for a report to the senate.”
“Sherlock Holmes?” Susheela repeated in amusement. “One of Shakespeare’s characters right? Your parents had quite a sense of humour.”
“They did indeed,” Akers agreed. He didn’t clarify that Sherlock Holmes was the name of the company he worked for, that would lead him to stating his actual name. His parents had given him a family name, a name that had plagued his childhood. Sherlock Holmes had been a codename given to him by his first commander in the resistance. Now that commander was Prime-Admin of the Confederacy, and he was stuck with the name. He preferred Sherlock Holmes anyway. It sounded familiar, but few Martians seemed to know who Arthur Conan Doyle was. At least Ms. Darzi had guessed a British author, most guessed American authors.
“He just needs to record in his report that he spoke with you,” the constable continued.
“Of course, come up stairs,” Susheela Darzi stated. “We can sit in the garden, it is like being back on Earth.”
She seemed proud of that, Akers had never been to Earth. Few Mars-born had been to Earth. Between the cost of the trip, and dealing with the increased gravity, most didn’t see the value. She led them up a set of stairs into a large glassed-in room with plants placed around the walls and a set of divans around a small pond in the centre. Above them was the eery blue pseudo-sky. Once they were sitting down there was no sign of Agni station, just plants and the blue sky, with little fish swimming around in the pond. So this was what Earth was like. It didn’t seem that impressive. Akers was more impressed with Susheela, she was stunningly beautiful. She must have had a lot of cosmetic surgery. As Akers understood it, most of the corporate bureaucrats liked to have attractive husbands or wives that had little or no useful skills. It was some kind of strange Earth-prostitution that elevated one’s status. Akers didn’t really get it, he preferred useful woman, but had to admit she was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen.
“So what can I do for you Mr. Holmes?” Susheela asked once they were seated.
“As Constable Jain said I just need to ask a few questions. There is just the one suspect, so everything seems in order,” Akers said. “Just routine, I’m sure you’ll understand.”
“Of course, the bureaucrats like their routines and documentation,” Susheela observed as she turned on a cigarette and then looked at him as she placed it to her lips and sucked suggestively. Odd. He glanced over as Constable Jain, and noted look of surprised anger. Interesting, maybe useful.
Akers tuned back to Susheela, “Have you been married long, Mrs. Darzi?”
“Four wonderful years!” she replied in an almost automatic response.
“Happily married?” Akers continued.
“Aseem is the most wonderful man in the world!” Susheela replied again without a thought.
“Is?” Akers enquired.
“Excuse me?” Susheela asked suddenly confused.
“You said he is the most wonderful man in the world. Is, not was,” Akers clarified.
“Oh. Yes, he is dead now. He was, my husband, he worked here in Agni Station,” Susheela stammered.
Broken programming Akers surmised. She wasn’t programmed for this eventuality. Clearly she was just programmed for Aseem’s amusement, now that he was dead it didn’t matter what happened to her. If Akers’ cybernetic eye wasn’t confirming she was human, he would have assumed she was an android.
“Any children Mrs. Darzi?” Akers asked.
“Children, oh my no!” Susheela answered. “Aseem has been approved for three children, but we are waiting to return to Earth. We wouldn’t want them to be born on Mars!”
Are waiting? She wasn’t going to be useful to the court; she didn’t seem to fully grasp reality. Too dysfunctional to be a suspect. A thought, “Are you planning to return to Earth?”
“Oh yes, Aseem and I can’t wait to return to Earth!” Susheela replied immediately.
“Aseem is dead,” Akers stated bluntly. “What are you planing to do?”
“Oh, yes, Aseem is dead now,” Susheela seemed to realize again. “I, I live here.”
“I’m sure we will find you a nice place to live here in Agni Station,” Constable Jain stated. “Until you decide what you want to do.”
“Yes, Roshan is my friend!” Susheela stated. “She visits me every day!”
“I see,” Akers tuned back to the constable. “Who get’s Mr. Darzi’s stock in Bharat Zirconium?”
“His clone back on Earth,” Roshan Jain answered. “After he is of legal age of course, until then it is administrated by his perpetual fund manager.”
“Who’ll be raising the clone?” Akers asked.
“Whoever he hired,” the constable answered. “There are several foster companies in the Singapore Conglomerate. I suppose he hired an firm in Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra. Is it important?”
“Probably not,” Akers conceded. “Just seems strange to not leave anything to your wife.”
“Bureaucrats are not like us,” Roshan observed. “They only care about themselves.”
“Whereas you care about Mrs. Darzi?” Akers asked in a vaguely accusatory tone.
“We are well acquainted,” the constable replied.
“We’re best of friends!” Susheela stated. “She visits me every day!”
“This is getting outside of your area of investigation,” Constable Jain observed. “Unless there are more questions related to the investigation, we should leave.”
“You’re right, we should go,” Akers agreed, and stood up. His cybernetics had recorded more than enough evidence to establish a second suspect. This room was covered in fingerprints and DNA belonging to someone else with a motive to kill Aseem. Now he just had to prove it was possible.
“Aw already?” Susheela said standing up. “I was hoping we could be friends!”
“Afraid so,” Akers stated dismissively. “Lots to do, and I want to leave Agni as soon as possible. Most of it is a lot hotter than this garden of yours.”
“Yes, this planet is too hot,” Susheela agreed. She didn’t seem to understand she was kilometres below the surface of a frozen world.
“This station is small, and Shrimati Darzi was quite isolated by her husband’s status,” Constable Jain explained once they were outside.
“Good of you to look in on her,” Akers stated. “What did Bachchan have on him when you arrested him?”
“Not much,” the constable answered. “Come back to the station and I’ll show you. There was a particle drill, some rocks, some forged security cards, an e-cigar. Of course I also found the gun he used to kill Sri Darzi when I searched his apartment.”
“I’d like to look at the gun,” Akers stated.
“Of course,” Constable Jain agreed. “It is a compelling piece of evidence. It must be in your report.”
A few minutes later he was looking at the gun, it was a compelling piece of evidence. An Ashok-Leyland solid-state laser-pistol. The reports of Aseem Darzi’s burns were consistent with this weapon. Constable Jain took the pistol from the evidence locker and tried to hand it to Akers, but he refused to touch it, “I’m just here as an observer, I shouldn’t handle the evidence. Did you find any DNA evidence of Bachchan handling the weapon?”
“No he had cleaned it,” Constable Jain reported.
“It looks brand new,” Akers observed.
“It is,” the constable replied. “The diagnostics report that only one shot has been fired.”
“So he just bought it to kill Darzi?” Akers suggested.
“It appears so,” Constable Jain agreed.
“Is there a record of him buying it?” Akers asked.
“No, but the CMZ does not require gun sales be registered,” the constable reported.
“When was it imported?” Akers asked.
“It was shipped in from Earth a few months ago,” Constable Jain replied. “To a gun shop up on the surface. I checked but they sold it months ago and don’t have a video recording of the sale anymore.”
Good, the evidence was adding up for Akers’ case. It was time to shake things up, and see what shook loose. “I don’t think Bachchan did it.”
“What?” Constable Jain was dumbfounded. “But you’ve seen all the evidence! Who do you think did it?”
“Oh I’m pretty sure I know who did it,” Akers stated. “But I don’t have enough evidence yet to make a case.”
“So that’s it? You come down here and make vague accusations to discredit my case against Bachchan?” Constable Jain demanded. “Get out of Agni Station! Take the next elevator up to the surface! You have no jurisdiction here!”
“Jurisdiction no, but a legit reason to pursue this case yes,” Akers stated. “And we both know if you throw me out of here the bureaucrats back on Earth with want to know why. My report to the Confederate Senate would report my current belief that Bachchan is being framed, and that would cast more doubt on your case than my sticking around here and asking a few more questions. Unless of course, you are covering something up.”
“Me? How dare you?” Constable Jain stammered.
“I’ll be sticking around until my case is closed!” Akers declared and then left the station before the constable could state another word. Akers grinned as he stepped out into the sweltering Chhatri. Constable Jain’s confusion was understandable, her case was solid. The murder weapon found in the home of the only person who was with the murder victim according to the station access logs, and someone with ample cause to kill the victim. And what did he have? In truth, not much. But sometimes a weak hand needed a good bluff, and this was one of those times.
He’d already spoken to everyone in this tiny community that he needed to speak to, but he needed to look at the murder scene before he closed his case. Perhaps he should have done that before alienating the constable. It was hot in the Chhatri, he looked around at the businesses. It was too hot to eat, he decided to return to his hotel room. It felt cool in the room, but was still around thirty above. He set the air conditioning to cool the room to 25 degrees, and lay down. The bed was too small to be comfortable, and he was clammy from sweating all afternoon. He took another shower and returned to his room. It was early evening, so he set his alarm wake him around midnight, and passed out. When he woke up he felt comfortable, a situation that ended as soon as he opened the door, and the heat rushed in. He walked back through the furnace of a hotel, and then opened the door to step out into the Chhatri and was hit again by a blast of heat. He wanted to leave, and then remembered it was going to get worse before it got better.
He walked over to Chicken Frankies, and ordered a chicken frankie and mango milk-shake, wondering if his sticking around was worth it. He could just send a report to the senate oversight committee agreeing with Constable Jain’s conclusions. The evidence was good against Bachchan. He doubted it would result in a conflict with Singapore Conglomerate. The Asians had enough to worry about with the Vietnamese Uprising, they wouldn’t want to engage in an interplanetary war over the murder of a minor corporate official. Clearly it had nothing to do with the Confederacy. Still…
“Senoir Sherlock?” a waitress asked, walking over to him.
“Sí,” Akers answered. She was the waitress serving the tables. Clearly he was sitting in the wrong area, because the bar waitress only spoke Odia. The waitress explained in Spanish that a young woman had been in looking for him. At first he thought it was Susheela Darzi, but the waitress’ face made it clear it wasn’t Ms. Darzi, who had apparently never been in the place. The waitress did not have a message, or know who the woman was, just that she had been looking for him. From the blue-haired description he assumed it was Anantha Bachchan.
“Are you from Madhabani?” Akers continued in Spanish.
“Oh no! I’m from down here!” the waitress replied clearly viewing Agni Station as separate colony from the rest of the CMZ. “I’ve been up there but was too cold. I thought I would die!”
“You were born down here?” Akers asked.
“No, I was born up in Madhabani. Women are not allowed to give birth down here. But I have lived here since I was a baby. My parents lived here long before that. My father was a miner, and my mother owns this Chicken Frankies franchise. I would never live anywhere else.”
“Your father doesn’t mine anymore?” Akers enquired.
“He died,” the waitress answered.
“Sorry,” Akers stated compassionately, it was a common enough story. “The war?”
“No, is was a blow-out a few years ago,” the waitress stated. “The north shaft blew out. Several hundred miners died.”
“A blow out this deep?” Akers asked.
“They hit a deep cave,” the waitress replied. “The outer atmosphere rushed in and filled the mine with higher pressure CO2 in minutes. Only a few miners got out before suffocating.”
“What happened to that shaft?” Akers asked.
“They sealed it off, after getting the bodies out of course,” the waitress answered.
“They didn’t reopen it?” Akers asked.
“No, the vein was dead,” the waitress reported. “It was mainly used to move equipment down to the lower levels where they are working now. But there are other elevators so they just sealed off the shaft.”
That was interesting. Akers knew mines, especially deep mines. He’d run a drilling unit when he was younger, and knew enough about mines to know that a blown out shaft could be used to get around, provided one had the right gear. The chicken frankie had a strange flavor, he’d never eaten chicken before. He didn’t like it, the flavor was too strong, and the texture stringy. He thought about tracking down Anantha Bachchan to see what she wanted, but decided it could wait. The night was going to be long enough, but if his hunch paid off, he could leave in the morning.
Given what he was about to do, the sooner he left the CMZ the better. This wasn’t the first problem in a CMZ he’d been sent in to resolve. The problem with being trusted by the Prime-Admin and Senate was that they knew they could depend on him to get the job done, whatever the job. His war record proved that. He had been with Dalton and Rome when they captured Pickering colony, not many could say that. If the corporate bureaucrats figured out what he was doing in Agni, it would be best if he was already gone. If the Confederacy had to deny knowledge of his actions while he was in corporate custody, it would be the last time anyone would ever hear of him.
Akers was just finishing his milkshake when she came into Chicken Frankies. He had been trying to make himself eat the chicken frankie. For someone who had spent his childhood starving the idea of wasting food was detestable, but he just couldn’t raise the odd tasting meat back to his mouth. He knew they raised chickens up in Madhabani, but the odd tasting meat reminded him too much of the meat he’d seen people eating at some of the smaller colonies back during the war. There was a lot of cannibalism back then, it had been a dark time.
“Have you found out anything?” Anantha Bachchan asked as she sat down at the bar next to Akers, she looked as beautiful as the first time he’d seen her boarding the elevator, although now she was soaked in sweat, like everyone else in the station.
“A few things, nothing I’d care to comment on yet,” Akers answered. The door opened again, and Justice Zeus walked in, paused briefly when he saw Akers and Anantha speaking, and then headed for a table.
“He is innocent!” Anantha declared. “You must believe me! Is there anything I can do to help your investigation?”
“Nothing I can think of,” Akers answered. Zeus ordered something from the waitress, but seemed to be more interested in watching Akers and Anantha. He wasn’t as sublet as he thought he was, perhaps Anantha hadn’t noticed, or maybe Akers had just spent too much time looking over his shoulder. He looked up at Anantha, and for a second lost himself in her eyes. She looked so sad. She believed her father was going to be found guilty. She had just lost her mother too, and had been thrown out of university when her family’s assets were seized. She looked so sad, he had to do something. “Don’t say anything to anyone yet, but I think I’ll have the case against your father dropped by the morning.”
Anantha’s eyes opened as she stared back at him, and he knew he’d made a mistake. He didn’t know he could get the charges dropped, but in her eyes he could see they had already bee dropped. “Really? You mean it?”
Akers paused. What should he tell her? She could blow it if she talked. He glanced over at Zeus and noticed the man was still watching them. It dawned on him that the Justice could have a cybernetic eardrum, and might be able to hear them clearly. “Yes, but only if you don’t tell anyone. The case is at a critical state.”
“Can I tell me father?” Anantha asked quickly.
“No,” Akers answered decisively. “If I’m right, he’ll find out in the morning anyway. It’s important that no one knows right now.”
The door opened and Constable Jain walked in. When she saw Akers talking to Anantha she stormed over and sat down next to them. “I told you to get out of Agni Station!”
“You could arrest me,” Akers offered, then decided to push Jain’s buttons and raised his voice. “Otherwise this station is open to the public, and I have a job to do. Bachchan is innocent, and you know it.”
For a few seconds Akers though Jain was about to hit him. Akers was prepared to defend himself, he always was, but he didn’t want to get into a fight with the local police officer. That wouldn’t help his case.
Almost a minute passed in silence, then she seemed to force herself to calm down. She leaned back, and flashed a vicious grin. “Alright Sherlock, play your game. We will see what the Ombudsman thinks when he arrives here.”
“Yes we will,” Akers stated as he got to his feet, then he turned to Anantha. “Go get some sleep, you can’t do anything for your father tonight.”
As he turned to leave Chicken Frankies he glanced back over at Justice Zeus, who was staring thoughtfully at Anantha and Constable Jain as he sipped his drink. Did he know what Akers was planning? Would he interfere?
Akers stepped out into the heat of the Chhatri and walked back to the hotel. When he got back to his hotel room he pulled his respirator-mask from his bag. He checked his com for a map of the station, found the entrance to the abandoned north shaft, and then headed back out. There were only a few people in the Chhatri at that early hour, and no signs of Anantha, Zeus, or Constable Jain. He crossed the Chhatri and followed one of the passageways, then turned into a tunnel that led past doors to various apartments. The passage way ended at a closed door. It was locked. Akers pulled out his com and used a stolen pass code to unlock the door.
The passageway behind the door was dark, the area was abandoned. Akers stepped through the door and it slid closed behind him. In front of him his cybernetic eye-lenses enhanced the visible spectrum, and he started out into the darkness. The area had once been used as a staging ground for the north shaft, and he quickly came to the large equipment airlocks sealing off the abandoned mine-shaft. The infrared indicated the airlocks were warmer than the sealed area he was in, and he wondered if he could take the heat. He looked around for the personnel door, and found it quickly not far from the to large equipment airlocks. It looked the same temperature as the area he was in, but he put on his respirator-mask and unlocked the door.
Behind the door was a short passageway, and then another door, this one warmer than the passage he was in. He paused, and then decided it had to be survivable if there had been minors working in there. He opened the door, and heat rushed in at him and engulfed him fully. He fought the urge to panic, and found it was manageable. Curiosity made him pull out his com and check the temperature. 53 degrees Celsius. He was glad he’d brought a flask of water with him.
In front of him was darkness. Even his cybernetic lenses’ light enhancement was having a hard time; there just wasn’t enough light to enhance. He turned on his com’s flashlight function and held it up exposing another loading area, just like the last except this one had abandoned equipment strewn about it. He started out.
The floor and equipment was covered in a fine layer of red dust, no doubt carried in during the blow-out. Blow-out seemed the wrong word, and Akers’ briefly wondered if he should call it a blow-in when he filed his report. There were footprints in the dust, someone had been though here recently. Akers finally had some evidence, but it wasn’t particularly useful. The shoe-prints were slightly smaller than his own, and could belong to anyone with feet smaller than his. They might clear Bachchan, if his feet were larger than the shoe-prints, but Akers hadn’t thought to asks Mr. Bachchan for his shoe-size when he was at the Police Station. He’d have to look into it later.
He followed the shoe-prints through the loading area, past some abandoned ore tractors to an open shaft. Finally, the mine. He shone his com light up at the ceiling examining the hanging wall, it seemed sound for an abandoned mine, and so he started down the shaft. What started out fairly narrow, with only enough room for couple ore tractors to drive down it, soon widened out, quickly becoming an an artificial cavern carved out my the miners, known as a stope. Akers shone his com light up again at the hanging wall far above, and saw cracks beginning to show around the carbon-nanotube support beams. Similar beams had been used back in Hussy, and he’d never seen cracks forming near them, but this was 10 kilometres deeper into the planet. He noted a trickle of water running out of one of the cracks, that wasn’t a good sign.
He was still following the tracks when it opened in front of him, an abyss, ascending upward. The hanging wall of the mine had collapsed, raining a mountain of debris down on whoever had been working in the area. Warped and shattered carbon-nanotube support beams and ventilation ducts protruded from the mountain of rubble in front of him. The shoe-prints continued up the pile of rubble, although they were harder to follow now, as the dust had become thicker, almost like silty sand in some areas. It didn’t matter though, it was clear whoever had climbed this mound of rubble had been following the path of least resistance, and all Akers had to do was follow it up, and then down the other side. At the peak he shone his com light up into the void again, but only blackness stared back, and the deafening silence seemed scream that more rubble could fall at any second. It was an irrational fear. Eventually the cavern would collapse in, but that might not happen for centuries. It would likely take a quake to start it. Still the void haunted him, and he hurried down the other side of the mound.
On the other side of the mountain of rubble the mine shaft had been descending, and so more of the rubble had rolled that way, making clambering down the hill seem like more of an ordeal than climbing up it had been. When Akers stood on the flat floor of the old mine shaft again, he stopped to take a drink from his flask. He held his breath and lifted his face plate, raising the flask his it to his lips but the water was warm, almost hot. He pressed the button on the side of the flask, and a tiny dry-ice pellet was released into the water, causing a eruption of ice-fog to burst out the mouth of the flask, which quickly dissipated into the sweltering air around him. A green light lit up on the side of the flask, and Akers took a swig of the icy, slightly carbonated water, before returning it to his pocket.
As Akers turn to follow the shoe tracks it happened, something unexpected that sent his blood racing more that that chasm above him. Another light appeared, up on top of the pile of rubble, someone was following him. His war time instinct kicked in, and his thumb swiped off the com light before he could think about it, leaving him there, at the bottom of the rubble, in the dark. Now he couldn’t move, but it was possible that the other person hadn’t seen his light.
The light shone around, and then down the path he had followed. This wasn’t a com light; someone had come prepared with a powerful spot light. It lit up the path leading down towards him, but stopped before it reached him. Apparently he had made better time than whoever it was expected. The light shifted, and was the pointed up into the abyss. Maybe they felt the same eery feeling Akers had felt, or maybe… No!
Akers turned on his com light and dashed down into mine shaft. The stope narrowed back into a tunnel as the spot light found him, and he was quickly around a corned before whoever it was had the opportunity to shoot him. The shoe-prints were still there, and so he followed them, confident that they had to lead to the murder site, and another exit from this scorching underworld; the exit that Bachchan had supposedly used.
The tunnel opened to another stope, and Akers skidded to a halt, shining his com light up at the stope’s hanging wall. It looked good, carbon-nanotube support beams and ventilation ducts all appeared in good condition. Then it came, a dull bang from the tunnel behind Akers, followed by a bone chilling crack. No! And then the crash. He was right about why that person had shone the light up into the chasm, and now he found himself running again. He didn’t decide to run, and hadn’t thought about a direction, apparently his body just wanted to get away from that noise. Then another crash came, and another, and he found himself blown off his feet, in a swirl of dust.
He rose with the feeling that two nails had been driven into his ears, and couldn’t stop himself from screaming. He realized it was the air pressure, he quickly opened and closed his jaw repeatedly until each ear popped, and the pain began to subside. The pressure had increased and now he could feel the air forcing its way past the seals on his face plate, and there was nothing he could do. The faceplate respirator-mask was designed to work on the surface of Mars, at a low atmospheric pressure. He needed to find the murder scene fast. Every Mars-born knew the effects of hypercapnia; too much carbon-dioxide in the blood led to disorientation, panic, unconsciousness, and then death. He was already disorientated, and realized he was panicking too.
He stopped. He stood there in the cavernous stope and reasoned it out. Behind him, the crashing noise had become a deafening roar, but it was beginning to fading, the cavern was collapsing. The air-pressure didn’t seem to be changing anymore. The sudden increase in pressure would have been caused by the air being compacted, so the path behind him was blocked. He would have to go forward; that was his original plan. Where where the shoe prints? Blow away by the shock-wave that had knocked him down. Damn! He shone his com light back up at the hanging wall above him, it seemed fine, no signs of change. Good enough.
He took another swig of instantly-chilled water from his flask and continued forward, down the inclining floor, deeper into the pitch-black inferno. He was jogging now, a steady pace he could continue for hours under different circumstances. He had no idea how long he could keep it up down here, or if the hypercapnia would get him first. It took just over ten minutes to reach the wall blocking off the newer sections of the mine from this older one. Ten of the longest minutes in Akers’ life. The wall was like the air lock Akers had passed through to enter the mine with a large set of equipment airlocks, except showing in infrared as slightly cooler than the area he was in.
He looked for the personnel hatch, and used his com to hack the access lock. Another short passage-way, and then a hatch opening to a cooler world, a much cooler world. It felt cold, freezing, that couldn’t be right. Akers pulled out his com and checked the temperature, it was 34 degrees Celsius. Not freezing by any standard. He realized it must be the CO2 building up in his blood, his skin was likely flushed. At least the CO2 wasn’t seeping in at the sides of the faceplate anymore. Wait.
Akers looked up at the air-ducts and realized he didn’t need to shine a light. The lights were on. The air-ducts should be working. His ear-drums felt like they were going to burst again. He checked the air quality with his com: breathable. He pulled his faceplate off and inhaled deeply, and the air was good. He opened and closed his jaws a few times to release the pressure, and then sat down and started hyperventilating, a technique taught to all children on Mars to flush the CO2 out of their blood. It took less than a minute of him to start feeling normal again. He drank some more water, and then rose to look around.
“Feeling better?” a voice asked.
Akers spun around, and found Justice Zeus sitting not far away, alone it seemed. Akers glanced around, but Zeus was alone.
“You wont need the gun,” Zeus stated.
Akers looked down at his hand, and then slipped the gun back into his shoulder holster. “An autonomic reflex. I wasn’t expecting to find you here.”
“Expecting someone else?” Zeus asked.
“No, actually. Is there surveillance in here?” Akers asked.
“Not in the mines,” Zeus answered. “And this mine is out of limits to everyone right now.”
“Everyone except you?” Akers noted.
“I asked the constable for access to the crime-scene,” Zeus explained. “I thought you’d turn up here. I’ve been reading up on you, Hero of the Rebellion.”
“Seems so,” Akers conceded.
“I fought too,” Zeus stated. “I was with the Grand Army when we retook New Edinburgh.”
“You were there?” Akers asked with a smirk. Every Arean citizen seemed to claim that.
“Yes,” Zeus answered ignoring the silent jab. “I wouldn’t expect you to remember me, I was just a corporal, I didn’t even see the General.”
The General. He was there. “I wasn’t with the Grand Army so I couldn’t remember you anyway.”
“You weren’t? You must be the only Arean citizen to ever say that!” Zeus grinned. “I thought everyone was there!”
“Seems so sometimes,” Akers replied. “I was with General Rome hacking the colony’s power distribution network.”
“Rome! That treacherous hosenscheißer!” Zeus shot back. “They should have shot him!”
“He has been under Canadian protection since the war,” Akers observed. “Besides this was before that, early in the war. Without Rome we wouldn’t have got the defences down when the Grand Army attacked New Edinburgh, and the war would have probably ended right there.”
“Maybe, but they still should have shot him!” Zeus retorted.
“Either way, it doesn’t help us now,” Akers observed. “We seem to be at an impasse.”
“I suppose you have figured out who the real killer is?” Zeus enquired.
“It seems apparent,” Akers stated.
“This is a problem,” Zeus replied.
“Is it?” Akers asked. “I would have thought the shoe-prints back in the closed off sections of the mine would be a problem.”
“They’re Bachchan’s size,” Zeus stated. “And there is a pair with that same red dust on them, sitting in Bachchan’s closet. Waiting for the constable to find.”
“I shouldn’t think that will be a problem now,” Akers observed.
“Why not?” Zeus enquired.
“You didn’t hear the chasm collapsing?” Akers asked in disbelief.
“That was the chasm collapsing!” Zeus shot back in shock. “I though it was a quake. I almost shit myself!”
Akers chuckled at the thought of Justice Zeus waddling back to his hotel room in shitty drawers. Zeus started chuckling too, and then stopped as be realized something. “Strange timing, think someone set it off?”
“Definitely,” Akers replied. “Someone else was in there. With a bright spotlight, looking up into the chasm.”
“I didn’t see them close up,” Akers replied. “But only the killer would have reason to drop a mountain on me.”
“Oh I see,” Zeus pondered. “And who do you think the killer is?”
“The way I see it, it could only be Constable Jain,” Akers replied.
“Constable Jain?” Zeus repeated in disbelief. “What reason could she have had for killing Darzi?”
“Lust,” Akers answered.
“Ah yes, she is Sucheela’s lover,” Zeus agreed. “But the way that poor woman was brainwashed anyone could be.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Akers replied. “All that matters is that Constable Jain lusted for Darzi’s wife, and killed him to get her. It’s one of the oldest stories.”
“And why is it a better story that Bachchan killing Darzi over his corporate manoeuvring?” the Justice asked.
“Well that would be because Bachchan is Mars-born,” Akers explained. “He’s a citizen of the Confederacy, and we can’t have our citizens killing bureaucrats from the most powerful federation on Earth.”
“Their power is waning,” the Justice retorted. They now have a civil war in Vietnam, and open rebellions in India, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Cambodia. Our sources are positive that they would never fight us for their CMZs if we invaded. Besides all their power is tied up in their army and navy. They have never had much of a space fleet. We could beat them in space.”
“It that what this is about?” Akers asked. “A war with the Singapore Conglomerate?”
“We don’ think they will go to war,” Zeus stated.
“We?” Akers enquired.
“The mission of the Bureau of Corporate Affairs has always been to shut down these capitalist enclaves,” the Justice stated. “Now is the perfect time to move against the Singapore Conglomerate, while they are in disarray.”
“I see,” Akers stated. “And would the corporate police officer killing the corporate bureaucrat to take his programed sex-slave wife not be as effective a story?
The Justice seemed to ponder and then agreed, “I guess it could work. But all the evidence points to Bachchan.”
“All the evidence that Constable Jain found?” Akers asked rhetorically.
“ I see your point,” Zeus conceded. “But there is still no evidence actually pointing to Roshan- the constable.”
“Her fingerprints and DNA are on the murder weapon,” Akers stated.
Zeus paused considering. “As the police detective on the case she would have to handle the evidence.”
“Maybe, but Bachchan’s fingerprints and DNA are not on the gun. Sometimes it’s the evidence that is missing that solves the case,” Akers replied. “And Bachchan gives a very convincing innocent plead. I think it will move the Ombudsman, if he is cyber-enhanced to detect lies.”
“All corporate Ombudsmen have to be cyber-enhanced. This could work. If the constable has any of that red dust still on her…” Zeus pondered then turned back to Akers. “Well, I guess it will have to work. The Ombudsman arrived shortly after you left Chicken Frankies. We should go meet with him. You will have to make the accusation against Constable Jain. I will be appropriately shocked of course…”
The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he'd worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties. He'd decided then that he never wanted to return to one, fortunately he wouldn't be in this one long. But that mine in Hussy had only been two kilometres below the surface of Mars, this mine was almost twelve. At the mine in Hussy he rode an elevator like this one twice each day, but here the miners lived below. Agni Mining Station was a small self-contained town at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He reached up and wiped the sweat from his brow. He'd only been in the elevator a few minutes, and already his clothes were soaked with sweat, and he was developing a headache. He opened his jacket hoping the sweat would evaporate, and in the process exposed the butt of the pistol in his shoulder holster.