<back :: contents :: next>

Selena City

by Miriam English

05 - Tourists

The Arrivals area is where people enter Selena City from Earth. The elevator that lowers them from docking orbit down to the Moon's surface can deliver about three hundred people at a time. Normally it carried far less than that and the security staff at Arrivals had a fairly easy job, but tonight was the big rave and visitor numbers had been building for days. Now many world famous entertainers and their crews were coming in, and security had to deal not only with the extra traffic, but also crowds of adoring fans.

Arriving in Selena City was a much slower process than leaving it. The worst problem by far was the enormous number of RFID tags people from Earth carried. They are illegal in the City so each person must be scanned and all their tags be individually removed and destroyed.

Della was here. She was obviously enjoying meeting some of her favorite musicians, but wanted me to deal with one very uppity musician who was sick of waiting in line with all the other people. "How could such a musical genius be such an utter asshole?" she wondered. He was a member of the elite and he resented having to wait. I had to laugh when Della gave me his name: Boulderdash. It was apparently a pun on the name of an old, old video game, and his smoothly shaven head. Della wanted me to talk with him because, although all security staff had special training in handling aggressive people peacefully, everybody had just about had it with this obnoxious clown and didn't trust their tempers. I had a reputation for never getting angry while being able to manoeuvre difficult people.

I walked over to him. He wore ostentatiously expensive clothes, was slightly above average height, with shaved bald head, a face that would be handsome except for the surly expression.

Including the people around him, I apologised, "I'm sorry about the delay, ladies and gentlemen. Entry is proceeding much slower than normal due to the heavier traffic. Extra staff are helping, but as you probably understand it still takes time to remove all the RFID tags so unhelpfully placed on you back on Earth."

Boulderdash spoke up angrily, "I shouldn't be waiting here with these ordinary people. Do you know who I am?"

Confidentially taking him by the elbow I took him a step aside and said humbly. "I'm really unhappy about the delay, but--" I waved some of the 'ordinary people' ahead of him, and saw his eyes goggle "it is unfortunately necessary. Do you understand the problem of RFID--"

His face red, he yelled at me, "I don't want to know about RF-whatever tags you stupid woman. Do your job properly and expedite me."

I felt like expediting him alright, with the sole of my boot. Instead, I made an innocent expression as if I didn't understand and asked what he meant.

His voice boomed, "I'm of the elite. I should be given preference. I shouldn't have to wait here with all these... people."

Raising my eyebrows and nodding as if I was beginning to see, I turned to some of the other tourists and asked them what they did as I waved them past also. One answered that he was a medical researcher, another that he designed steering systems on the giant sailships, and another that she was a fruit grower.

I smiled and thanked them then turned back to Boulderdash who was livid at falling even further behind in the line. Acting puzzled, I tapped my lips with my index finger, letting him think I might be a little slow or stupid. "I'm sorry, I must be missing some important fact here. I just don't understand. A person who saves lives, another who helps design giant, ocean-going sailships, and another who feeds millions of people... all you do is make tunes." Out of the corner of my eye I saw Della wince. "How can you be more important?" I heard the fruit grower behind me titter with suppressed laughter.

When the guy started to explode again ranting about how his music sold millions and made him a billionaire, I nodded thoughtfully and frowned, looking genuinely lost. "But you have some other reason to consider yourself better than just trading tokens, right?"

He started shouting at the other staff, who looked extremely uncomfortable and avoided looking at him. They didn't want to touch this guy.

I asked him, "Ummm... you know that Selena City is not part of Earth, right?"

He made a sarcastic remark.

Bowing my head I apologised, "Sorry, I thought you must have been confused."

He landed a stream of scathing insults on me.

I shook my head in concern, tch-tch-tching and wagging my finger at him. "Did you know that insults like that are considered a form of assault? Any citizen of Selena City could have you sent back to Earth for what you just said. As it happens, you're very lucky that I'm working with you. I understand the particular mental problems that cause you to act like this..." Just then I received a call from David. I put up my hand to Balderdash, "Excuse me, I've got a call" and turned half away from him, inclining my head.

David spoke fast. It was an emergency. A child had gone missing. He told me where the parents were in Casuarina Gardens and I said I'd be right there.

I turned back to Boulderdash and said quickly, but with a soothing tone, "Okay. No time to dance around the subject anymore. I have an emergency -- a real little kid instead of a spoiled adult who acts like one. Do you know why none of the other staff want to deal with you? It's because you treat them like crap. Money and status count for very little here in the City. The security staff do this work because they like to help, not because they're forced into wage-slavery like on Earth. If you want to be performing at the rave then act like a genuine person instead of an emotional cripple and you'll be through as fast as possible. Otherwise, go back to Earth." Then I strode away from him.

Della was rolling her eyes as I passed and a number of security people and tourists were grinning. There was even a smattering of applause. I felt badly about humiliating the musician, but I couldn't think of any other way. As far as I could see, if I hadn't done so, then he would have made life hell for all the other people and androids there. I wanted to talk with someone with more experience about whether there'd been a better way to handle it, but it would have to wait till later.

I needed to get to Casuarina Gardens quickly so I hurried to the nearest transport tube. There are always plenty of pods available at the large, polished, black, stone wall opposite Arrivals. I stepped into one of the open pods, its interior softly lit with yellow light. Its door slid closed and I asked as I sat. "Casuarina Gardens please." The harness dropped over me, and the little pod shot up through its tube. They always leave upwards, even if the destination is lower. It is much more comfortable being compressed into your seat than suddenly going into freefall.

About twenty seconds later I was six kilometers north and eight levels lower, slowing to a stop near Casuarina Gardens. The door slipped open and I immediately saw the group of people gathered on the far side of the wide, high, arched esplanade. About thirty folk, mostly security staff, were assembling at the entrance to the Garden. I strode over while identifying the parents and Victor Chee the security person interviewing them. Other security staff were streaming in from various directions too.

I was glad Victor was coordinating this. He had one of those amazingly alert and retentive minds that took everything in and he never got flustered. I learned a lot of my skills from him. I made a mental note to try and get a chance to talk to him later about how I handled the Boulderdash character.

Victor looked like he'd finished interviewing the parents and he straightened. I would have still been too far from the crowd to hear what was being said, but David piped it over the security comms so I, and the other latecomers heard it in our heads.

"The parents, June and Ahmed here, were having a picnic with their five year old boy, Bobby when he wandered away. It was only a short time before they noticed his absence, so they think, and I agree, that the only place he could have gone is into the water tunnels. He has a toy gorilla with him, but unfortunately it doesn't have comms so we can't contact it for help." An image of a very cute little red-haired, befreckled boy being hugged by a toy gorilla was sent to us all.

Victor continued, "The recent disturbance with the video feeds means we can't see him, but we have identified which tunnels could be hiding him. He's probably safe, but just in case, we need to move quickly. I'm sending everybody data on the most efficient search pattern. Please choose a route for yourself and lets go."

The group disbanded immediately like ants running from a disturbance. Most headed to the nearest water tunnel. I did too.

The route I chose found me paired with Colby, an old friend of many years. He's a fairly tall, slender, good-looking guy with tidy, short brown hair who always dressed in old-style suits with polished shoes. The first impression he gave was of a happy, polite, charming person who was well spoken and moved with economical grace. It wasn't apparent until you got to know him, but he'd been born a little retarded. He was the sweetest, most genuinely nice person I'd ever met. I couldn't imagine him wishing another soul any ill will. He positively beamed when he saw me and greeted me the same way he always did. "Adele! Great to see you. Hey, I always wondered, is your name French?"

It wasn't a joke. He never remembered my answer. That's Colby. I laughed and shrugged. "C'mon, lets find this kid and be heroes."

He laughed back as we strode into the tunnel. Both of us watching our progress on a map overlaid on our vision.

The tunnels had a footpath wide enough for four people to walk shoulder to shoulder. Dividing the tunnel down its length was a meter-high stone wall. On the other side was the water. The roof was a couple of meters over our heads and the way was fairly well lit by light pipes. It was airy, dry and a comfortable temperature.

As we walked along, more and more of the other security people turned off in pairs into side tunnels. It was a maze in here. All the systems -- air, water, light, transport, electricity -- used completely decentralised grids. Nothing depended entirely on anything else.

The water tunnels were normally closed off by a series of airtight and watertight doors which would open at prescribed intervals in a pattern that allowed water to circulate, but didn't compromise the safety of the system. This was so that if anything ever went drastically wrong, damage was carefully limited. Usually it wasn't a problem if a person or an animal wandered in here. The video system alerted security and they were guided back out again, but Farne's pesky fiddling with the video feeds had meant nobody had seen little Bobby getting lost.

We chatted as we walked briskly along peering ahead for the young boy. Colby asked me how married life was with Brenda. I told him, again, we were apart now, and he offered his honest condolences just as he had last week. I've never been sure whether he's just being polite or if he really doesn't understand you can't marry an android.

I asked how he was doing in his new apartment and he laughed that he forgot the other day and turned up at his mother's place. The way he spoke, it sounded like it was just one of those days and had never happened before, but I knew it was a regular occurrence.

We walked and talked like this for the best part of half an hour, Colby making the same jokes and observations he always did, and me laughing at his innocent jests, when the announcement came over the comms that Bobby had been found. Shortly after, the parents came on and in choked, emotion-filled voices thanked us all.

Colby had tears in his eyes. He looked so happy and relieved I had to hug him. I asked if he'd like to come back to my place to celebrate with some juice and to watch It's a Wonderful Life on vid.

He looked delighted and exclaimed, "That's my favorite movie. How did you know?"

I laughed and replied, "Could be a lucky guess." We'd watched it countless times together.

"Bet you can't guess what my second favorite movie is," he challenged, smugly.

I put my fingers to my temples and squinted as if concentrating and said after a few moments, "Harvey?" He'd always had a thing for James Stewart movies.

His look of real astonishment always tickled me. "Wow, Adele. That's amazing. It's like you read my mind."

I sent a message to Colby's Mum to let her know he was going to spend the night at my place watching old movies.

<back :: contents :: next>