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Selena City

by Miriam English

12 - Checking

By the time I got home to my apartment that evening I was exhausted. We'd gone over all the movements of the most recent people leaving the City who'd triggered the RFID alarms. Now that the rave had ended, the numbers of people we had to interview were steadily growing. A pattern was definitely emerging, and day 3 light pipes were looking more and more like they were part of that, though nothing was certain yet. The other aspects of the pattern would hopefully lead us to where Farne was hiding.

We sent some maintenance bots out onto the Moon surface to examine the solar concentrators at the ends of the light pipes for day 3 to see if any had been tampered with. It took us hours, but after carefully going over every single one we came up with a blank. Well, at least that meant he hadn't rigged the outside. Or that he hadn't yet. Nobody considered it very likely that he'd choose that route anyway. Otherwise why bother with all the rigamarole inside the City?

It would take a lot longer checking the insides of the pipes and we only were able to inspect a few before we called it a night.

I kept thinking there had to be a simpler way. What was needed was some info on how Farne intended to open the pipes to the airless surface... if that was indeed what he was intending. It bothered me that my idea could be completely wrong and we could be wasting our time on a wild goose chase.

Opening my door, I was so preoccupied that I was unprepared for the sight of Brenda there on my couch. I mean, on some level I had known she would be there. My mind had just been so full of this dangerous puzzle with Farne that it had excluded all else. Well, now that was blown away. My dark mood evaporated.

As I closed the door behind me, Brenda smiled, rose from the couch and moved to me, graceful, feline. Her arms went around me in a hug while she nibbled my neck. My knees almost gave way. Her voice whispered in my ear, "I've been wanting to do this all day since we were interrupted this morning."

We stood there in embrace for... I don't know how long. Being with her, I felt like I was home.

As I relaxed in her arms my exhaustion swept over me again. "Oh... I need to get off my feet. I've had a long day."

We moved to the bedroom. She asked, "Are you hungry?"

"I had dinner at work."

She lifted her eyebrows. "What makes you think I was asking about food?"

I laughed and had to close my eyes for a moment.

Her voice was suddenly full of concern. "You're tired. I'm sorry. Here I was, just thinking of myself."

And I fell asleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night I awoke for a short time to find she'd undressed me and was asleep, snuggled up against me. In the dimness I moved some strands of hair away from her face, and gazed at her, a beautiful, glistening shadow in the shadows. I was feeling more at peace than I had for a long time.

In the morning I awoke alone. Brenda's voice was coming from the living room. I got up, put on a dressing gown, and went in there to see her. She was seated alone on the couch talking on her comms. She smiled and finger-waved at me.

"Okay, I'll talk later. Adele is awake. Bye." She added in my direction, "That was Priyanka. Yesterday I asked Joseph, one of the other teachers, to put her up at his place. It occurred to me that it might not be safe for her here or in a new apartment."

"Great idea. Thanks Brenda. With the new developments on the Farne case Priyanka had slipped my mind."

Her smile dropped and she looked hopeful. "New developments? Does that mean you might be able find Craig?"

I gulped. Every step I took in that direction brought me closer to losing her again. "Sort of. We have better leads so we may be able to pinpoint their movements soon. We have a lot of work to do in the meantime. Spent most of yesterday remoting bots to a few hundred solar concentrators up on the surface. Today I expect to spend all day checking light pipes."

She looked dismayed. "Oh my god. There are thousands of them. How could you possibly check all of those?"

"It looks like we only need to worry about the pipes for day 3. That reduces the number to just a few hundred. We figure we probably have... uh... nine days to find something."

"What are you looking for?"

I shook my head. "I don't know. Some way of destroying the end seal on the light pipes up at the surface. It seems likely that Farne wants to decompress the entire City -- kill everybody and everything. He might be going to use explosives perhaps, or some mechanism, maybe? We haven't seen anything yet, but maybe we've only checked the pipes he hasn't tampered with yet."

She patted the couch beside her and I came over and sat. She held my hand. "Would he be able to get explosives through Arrivals?"

I frowned. "I doubt it. And I can't imagine where he'd get them in the City. That leaves the possibility that he intends to make them himself. We have a few chemists checking out all the combinations of substances able to do the most damage."

"Wow. Some of those materials are really common... ordinary old aluminium for instance."

Nodding, I said, "We really need to find him so we can learn what we're looking for."

"Any idea why Farne wants to destroy the City? That might give some clues."

"Yeah. He's a Christian Puritan."

She looked shocked. "I doubt you'll find out anything from him. Religion!" She shuddered. "It replaces reality with an unshakeable certainty that rationalises anything. If he's willing to kill many hundreds of thousands of City inhabitants it's unlikely that anything you do or say will convince him to tell you something useful."

"We still don't truly know that he's planning to sabotage the City. It's just the only thing we've come up with so far that comes close to fitting what we know. It's conceivable that we've missed something else entirely." I looked down at my hand in hers. "We desperately need more information."

"Maybe you'll find a clue in the light pipes," she suggested.

"Maybe," I agreed. Even to my ears I sounded unconvinced. "But I can't help thinking we're overlooking something."

She smiled. "Perhaps that's why you're good at what you do. Where others are satisfied and confident, you probably keep doubting and questioning."

I sighed. "It's really not looking good though: nine days to save half a million lives and we still have next to no idea what we're even searching for." Looking at her, I cupped her cheek in my other hand. "Thank you for being here and talking with me about this. It means a lot to me."

She leaned in and placed her lips on mine in the softest of kisses, and lingered there for a moment. "I must have been very happy before, to be with someone like you." She hugged me.

After about a minute she held me at arms length and looked in my eyes. "I bite my tongue to say this, but you should go to work so you and your friends can save the City. If you don't leave soon I'm going to have great difficulty preventing myself from tearing your dressing gown off and having my way with you." She smiled and fluttered her eyes at me.

"Uuuunh," I moaned. "Why isn't life ever easy?" I raised the back of her hand to my lips, nuzzled it for a moment, then stood and returned to the bedroom to dress for work... kicking myself all the way.

On my way to the nearest Maintenance area I made a call to Henna and apologised for not checking in with her for so long.

She sounded as happy as a lark. "Oh, don't worry about me. I'm having a wonderful time. We've been doing the big tourist thing. Yesterday, after briefly visiting a Garden, we spent the rest of the day in the Casino entertainment complexes, until quite late, and then we went back to his apartment..." She paused for a moment. "That was Marcus. He asked me to thank you for arranging the apartment for him. Anyway, we had a fantastic time -- and not just great sex either -- we talk about all sorts of things. I'm so glad you asked me to be his guide. I'm really enjoying his company."

A little surprised by her gushing enthusiasm, I told her I was happy she was having a good time, and that she was now the primary contact person for the problem of Marcus Hildebrand because I'd be spending all day in the light pipes investigating what Jason Farne was up to.

She answered, "I'm going to have fun with Marcus in the Gardens today. We're already at the Great Lake and about to take a two-person sailboat out. You ever tried that?"

"No. I don't like the wind. Those high pressure fans just feel wrong -- blowing all the leaves and your hair every which way, getting things in your eyes... Give me calm, still air any day."

"Oh, I love it. And Marcus says it reminds him of windy days on Earth."

I told her that I hoped she had a good time, but to be careful.

She laughed and said, "No problem at all. Hope your day yields good results."

We disconnected, and for a while I pondered what she had said. There didn't seem to be anything suspicious in it. She really appeared to be enjoying herself.

Presently I arrived at Maintenance and met up with some of my group. Greetings were exchanged while I donned a gecko suit. We would randomly pair off with whoever was ready. When I was set to enter the tubes so was Marcie, so we partnered. Marcie and I had a bit of history together. Before Brenda we used to spend a lot of time together. I hadn't been in love with her, but we were more than pals. I never quite understood how Marcie felt. She was tall, pale, very, very skinny, with short, scrappy hair -- not physically attractive at all, but she was kind and helpful, and painfully polite. She was brilliant in bed -- at total odds to her public manner, which was all awkward and standoffish. Forget about public displays of affection like hugs or, heaven forbid, kisses, but she never made any demands on anyone, and you just knew she was one of those people who was a friend for life, no matter what.

We padded our way on clingy hands and knees up the smooth, vertical, mirror surface of the light tube. It always felt a little like magic, being able to scale smooth surfaces the way that those little gecko lizards do. Maintenance have the coolest toys.

As we climbed, we chatted. She was still single. I told her about the recent re-entry of Brenda into my life.

She asked, "What will you do when Mackey is found?"

I shrugged. "What can I do? She'll go back to him of course."

Throwing a glance at me, she commented, "That sucks."

I nodded but couldn't say anything.

Obviously changing the subject to something less emotional, she said, "Did you hear about the hold-up recently?"

"Vaguely. Were you part of the response to it?"

She laughed. "Yes. It was rather funny actually. These tourists," she said the word like an insult, "had brought guns in in their luggage. The Arrivals crew had removed the firing pins from the weapons and notified us. We followed their movements and knew what they were up to when they started casing one of the Casino cashiers. I substituted for the cashier on the day they made their move, and had a lot of fun with them."

"Fun?" I was puzzled. "How do you have fun with people waving guns at you?"

We reached a side access tunnel, and I shone my light down it, examining it as far as I could see, then we moved on again, up the main tube.

She continued, "I was very polite to them, telling them they didn't need the guns. All they needed to do was ask. The shorter one of the two was rather nervous and angrily ordered me to fill their bags with money, pointing from me to the bags with his gun. I crossed my arms and stood back a little. I told him that I would, but not till he put his gun away and stopped being so rude." She laughed, remembering. "His eyes bugged and he spluttered. His taller partner pulled him aside and calmed him down. The tall one made a great show of putting their guns away and he apologised for his partner, then he asked me to fill the bags with loot."Marcie laughed again. "He actually said 'loot'. I think they'd watched too many old-time gangster movies. Anyway, I cheerfully asked him how much he wanted and in what denomination. He was quite tongue-tied for a moment, then seemed to come to the conclusion that I was a few lights short of a chandelier... or, what do they say on the gaming floor?"

"Not playing with a full deck?"

She laughed again, "Yes. The aggressive one looked stunned when I started loading up the bags with money. I hummed a nice little tune to add to the atmosphere."Marcie chuckled and I laughed, imagining her playing the part.

"Then when I'd filled the bags..." We reached another access tunnel, and she shone her light down this one, pausing for a while to inspect it carefully. "...when I'd filled the bags I sent the command for a form to be displayed on the counter. I thanked the taller guy and said for him to just sign the form and the money was his. He didn't know what to do. He asked what was this? I acted innocent and told him that he could take as much money as he wanted, but he had to sign for it or else the City would think I took the money. I couldn't resist adding 'and that wouldn't be honest.'"

Marcie and I laughed. She loved pretending to be clueless in such situations.

"The tall one said that he wouldn't want to be dishonest, and signed the form. It blinked off momentarily then back on again, as I knew it would. I acted puzzled and asked him if he was sure he'd signed properly. I told him that it would only let me give him the money if he used his real name. The shorter one started to get angry again and said 'Listen you ditzy broad--' but his pal settled him down again and turned back to me. He apologised, saying that he was used to signing his pen name. It was all I could do to stop myself from laughing. He signed his real name and the form vanished. I acted disappointed, noting that they're from Earth, and no wonder they acted strangely about money. I apologised and told them that I could only give money to citizens of the City. The short guy started to get angry again, but his partner stopped him and asked me how he could become a citizen."

Marcie continued with her story while I stopped to shine my light down another access tunnel. "He was obviously intrigued by a place where money was to be had for the asking. I told him it was easy. I turned the booth over to one of the real cashiers and beckoned the would-be thieves to come with me. The short guy was getting spooked and said that I was taking them to the cops. Pretending surprise, I said that we don't have police -- that I'd said I was going to show them how to become citizens and that's what I was doing. I took the tall one's hand and started off in the direction of immigration. It was important, of course, to find out what they liked before we got there, otherwise they'd get all frustrated so I asked them a few leading questions and it turned out that the tall one had always liked working with intellectually and physically disabled kids. He had an older sister on Earth who was severely disabled and he looked after her. That explained his skill at soothing his more stupid and aggressive partner. It also showed why he was so patient with my dumb chick routine."

Marcie inspected another side tunnel.

I asked, "What about the other guy?"

She shook her head. "Oh, he was much more difficult. What is it Jessica Alba says in that show? He's so stupid, the word special comes to mind."

We laughed. We both loved that series from way back at the turn of the century. Dark Angel. Jessica Alba was sooo hot!

"Anyway it turned out that, despite his intellectual deficiencies, he was a very good gardener."

I asked, "So what happened?"

"Well, I spent the rest of the day with them at immigration, helping them understand how the City works; that money here isn't really valuable. It took a while for the tall guy to catch on, but eventually it was like a revelation for him. It was a beautiful thing to see. He'd never imagined that money could be anything other than a central necessity of life, like it is on Earth. When he saw that it was almost optional here, and little more than just a way of keeping track of resources, he was rapt. He could hardly believe that the City gave all its citizens money every day, simply for being citizens. I'm not sure he ever got all the ramifications, but he's happy enough now. We got his sister moved here and he helps at the New Moon apartments with the disabled people there. He's really good at it."

Another side tunnel, and I checked it.

"The other guy is a gardener at Bunya Gardens. I've spoken to him a couple of times since and he's like a totally different person. No sign of aggression anymore now he doesn't have any frustrations in his life. He's shy and works with the plants, feeding the birds and the animals." She sighed.

I shook my head. "Amazing, isn't it? Earth would have thrown them in jail, calling it punishment, and simply conditioned them to be more antisocial. Here they become useful members of society, just by letting them do what they want."

We were almost at the end of the pipe at this point, and we didn't speak for a while, just crawling upward. We checked around the seal, where the concentrator fed into the pipe, looking for any signs of tampering, and finding none. Then we slid back down the pipe, braking our descent by dragging our gecko suit fingers and toes on the walls. It was great fun.

All day we did this -- chatting and checking light pipes. By the time evening came, I felt like every part of my body was worn out. But worse was how demoralised I felt. We had found nothing. I staggered home to Brenda who cooed over me, and I fell asleep in her arms.

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