Friday, September 04, 2009

Chapter 02 - Water and Solitude.

Hassan the water vendor is an acquired taste. Ex-military, very abrupt at times, but an impartial man, I have dealt with him for years, and he has always traded fairly. Very difficult to find in some sectors, a good, fair, trader.
Food and water, the basic fundamentals of life, are not good things to run out of either. There are too many little space wrecks orbiting distant stars with the desiccated, starved, crew still sitting at their posts. Most of them completely robbed out and useless now, but by tradition the bodies remain untouched. Big bad voodoo to even move them, incur a curse even. Too many are the stories of the dead visiting the grave robbers to drive them space crazy and leave another husk of a ship forever orbiting some minor asteroid or planet. This myth frequently backed up by the instances of more than one craft orbiting the same desolate piece of rock.
Personally I like to think it's statistical probability that the stupid, and ill prepared, would all congregate round similar destinations if they are attempting, if somewhat unsuccessfully, the same route, and come to a, I would say sticky, but think of it as an awfully dry, end. You can't have too much food and water on the ship, cutting corners is not a viable option. A mistake of a few degrees in navigation can send a ship off of its course by thousands of miles. If you're trying to hit some small piece of rock in the vastness of space that little mistake can take days, if not sometimes weeks or months, to rectify. Better to be over cautious than over optimistic and, fundamentally, dead.
The family Smith where early adopters of space trading. Accepting all manner of grants and licenses from the Pan African Space Consortium many centuries ago. They hold monopolies on many of the water trading franchises across many major star systems. Hold them with a vice like grip that the centuries, and many interested parties wishing to take them from them, have seen them maintain their grip.
A high security compound in the trading district. Well guarded and washed with sensor arrays, very little could get in here without them knowing who and where it is. Still I am cautious I don’t want to upset the water traders, to be left high and dry is almost as instant a death sentence as to open an airlock in deep space.
Hassan is an amazing sight himself, a huge bulk of a man, a veritable giant. Military service having required many augmentations and gene therapies to produce an efficient, robust killing machine. As head of the clan Sol, though negroid, he sports an albino gene splice to mark his eminence of seniority. I have heard he had to kill three brothers and an uncle or two to take the clan headship. Some say it was always his plan, that should he survive military service he would use the gifts they had given him to take his place as head of the clan. Though his position demands he have a small retinue of body guards I doubt the success of any attempt on his life. Scarred both ritually and in battle, he presents an awe inspiring, terrifying, ghostly aspect.
“Ramadan Gaud! It impresses me that my Martian brother is still alive, and not the smear over the hull of some anonymous cargo crate from Cygnus colony!” He booms as I enter the room.
His hand dwarfs mine as we shake hands. “Hassan, you do me great honour meeting me to trade personally. I'm sure there's many more important things you could be doing with your time.”
“Ramadan. Not only would I consider it an insult on my part, but I enjoy your company. And I trust your opinion more than many of these frightened toadies that fawn like sycophants, fighting like spoilt children for every minute of my attention.” He smiled, whilst lifting a large bottle of spirit and two glasses onto the desk between us.
Along bottle, almost half a meter tall, more like a small basketball with a spike rising from the top. A pale blue green liquid languishing within, moving in an almost viscous, lethargic way.
He pours two glasses.
I savour the aroma of mine, raise an eyebrow and ask. “The 'Sing 47'?” He nods.
“Please a glass of this is worth more than half my trades with you so far. The Martian Sing vineyards haven't had such a good harvest in the last two hundred years!”
“Again it's your company, and what you're going to do for me that I value!”
“Ah ha! Now the catch.”
“Ramadan, you insult me.” He smiles as cat would to a mouse it is about to eat.
“I have a favour I need to ask.”
I sip the liquor and wait for his pitch.
“I will give you the water you ask for plus half again, for nothing, gratis, but I need someone transported. Someone rather special to me.”
“Hassan, you know I have minimum armaments and weapons. You'd do better sending them via one of the deep space liners, with a large complement of your body guard. I refuse to believe you of all people can't afford that?”
“It's not a matter of price. It's a matter of trust. She is my niece. For years now she has lived in my household, as a guest, to ensure here fathers continued loyalty to me. Recently one of my uncles unfortunately passed away, and I need someone loyal to hold the office of that branch of the family.”
“I only have room for two or three people in my rig!”
“Not a problem. She will travel alone, incognito. I have already dispatched a compliment of my personal bodyguard to ensure that conditions are favourable for her arrival.”
I felt a cold chill run down my spine. The politics of water were often bloody and particularly Machiavellian. I realised Hassan was annexing more of the franchise under his control.
Again the predatory smile. “I take it we are agreed then?”
Only the terminally stupid would turn down an offer like this.
“Yes, yes. One run, one delivery.” Again we shook hands.
“Finish your drink, don't worry. Have another if you wish. I must attend to other matters. As you will appreciate things are a little hectic at the moment.” He stood, bowed slightly to me. I stood bowed lower to show due respect.
He stopped at the door looking back, earnest for a moment “Ramadan, you can refuse if you want, I will not hold it against you. Many would shy away from matters of family politics amongst the Clans Smith. It is because I trust you and count you as a true friend that I ask you to do this for me.”
I bow even lower. “No I can do this. And thank you.”
He leaves. One servant remains. He looks me in the eyes.
“You sir are greatly honoured. I've not heard him say such to any others. He sees something in you he likes. Possibly the fact that neither of you fit quite properly in the roles you choose to take.”
“Honoured yes, but let’s hope I'm not letting myself in for something I can't handle.”
He pours me another glass and leaves with the bottle. I sit for a while pondering what exactly have I just done.
The big problem with flying solo is, obviously, the solitude. Three months in a large four bed roomed house hurtling through space with just you sitting in it. I can sit and listen to the continuous drone of the air filters pumping recycled air round the ship. I can live with that vague buzz from the engine that vibrates through everything you touch or sit on, even with the best inertial dampening you still feel it through the very air. At times I can discern patterns, modulations, subtle changes in notes, fluctuations in the harmonics between the filter pump and the engine. Sometimes a bearing may stick or squeak. I like to think of it as the soul of the ship singing to me. I have been known to sit and listen for hours, even to the point of humming the tunes myself.
In an attempt to stave off this space madness I get Lady Jane to automatically record anything she can pick up on the station wavebands, music, gossip, news, anything. Then she randomly plays it back to me over the next few months. I also have intelligent agents scouring the station webs and inter-links for any new movies, games or mesh, based on previous choices and tastes. I'm quite proud of my collection of turn of the millennium films and books. My library has extensive mesh enhancement. I have many films converted to mesh environments so I can explore the outer story lines, histories, and step into the actors, and authors, lives as well. I spend hours just plugged into my mesh playing and watching, sometimes even extending stories for weeks or months just to see where the plot would have gone if left to develop. Other times I just sit in the lounge watching the originals projected onto one of the walls in good old fashioned 2D. Other times I'll amuse myself by tuning into the latent radio signals that are bouncing around the solar system. Dependant on our distance from certain planets, depends how far back in time you can listen, and watch. From a historical point of view it's fascinating. If you go far enough out you get to see some of the very first experimental mesh widecasts, original tri-dee, and even really early television. I even hear some academics have calculated the speed of certain radio signals and travelled out to meet them to record them for posterity.
So you can see I have a lot of mechanisms in place to stave off getting space fried. Well trying to, but if you were to see me bouncing round the ship singing filter pump songs or talking to the fridge you may speculate it could be a bit late.
So why am I telling you this?
In some way to try to explain my reaction to what happened next.
Here I am, strolling away from the Café Venue, being a fully adapted Martian I'm not as tall as many of the others but I'm a lot wider and stockier, so am making my way quite nicely away from the explosion of violence that was the Venue. That is now being urgently attended by copious amounts of riot geared, and stun stick waving station militia. Transport for the soon to be incarcerated making its way slowly down the boulevard, sirens screaming and lights flashing.
This all being a bit too hectic I am making my way back to the Lady Jane Grey to sleep. Whilst in dry dock I have special pass to continue using her as my abode. The skin work being handled be millions upon millions of nanites who ensure the process doesn't breach the integrity of the hull. It will take a week for them to eat the old hull and excrete the new one, and for it to harden properly under their protective skin, so I am happy I don't have to spend hard earnt credit on station side doss holes just to be able to breath whilst I sleep.
So nicely pacified by a days gentle drinking, good food, slightly less processed than I'm used to on board, a fight avoided, and six months water nicely brokered and to be delivered in the next morning cycle, I saunter round the corridor to see her sitting there. A frail thing. About my height, so short, without the bulk. Bright red hair, and the albino splice. I nearly crap myself. If she's a pink eye like Hassan then she's almost as important as he is. She stands, bows slightly, I return the gesture with slightly more respect.
“Here the waters loaded, nine months worth, and the skins hardened. I signed for it.” She hands me the dockside slate.
“The sins complete. It wasn't due to cook until the beginning of next week!”
“I think you'll find Uncle Hassan has had something to do with expediting things. Amazing how quickly things get done when he enquires about them round here.” She smiles mirthlessly.

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