by Steven Francis Murphy
Cold. It’s so cold down here, Timmy. Why didn’t you come to me? I’d have snuck you past Dad. You didn’t have to stay down in the alleyways.
The coroner pulled the industrial blue sheet back from the corpse on the slab. Cornrows adorned the top of his head, frazzled and frosted with ice. Numerous small puckered scars dotted his chest leading down across his abdomen. He was rail thin with sores and scars. Stitches drew a letter Y across his bare, grey black, hairless chest.
Timmy had that knowing grin on his face that got him into and out of so much trouble.
There was a ringing noise in the morgue that the coroner seemed oblivious to.
McAllister moaned, rolling toward the alarm clock to turn it off. He swung his legs out of the rack and sat up. The lunar floor was cold against his feet. A backpack filled with supplies two feet away from his sleep compartment by the door.
I should buy a carpet or something, he thought, turning toward the mirror. His close cropped, ebony head filled the small square with geometric perfection. Six inches more above his six feet was the low ceiling. He couldn’t afford his own holoceiling. Even with his security discount, he could barely afford a Sector One apartment in the low rent district of Aldrin Lunar Colony. The cheapest place after Sector One was Sector Four.
Also known as Mutawaland, rent there was free.
“Shouldn’t bother with him, Greg,” he told his reflection, working the razor around his chin. “No better than Timmy was.”
Finished with shaving, he made his bunk and assembled his uniform. He put on a pair of olive drab trousers, followed by a khaki polo shirt over his t-shirt. The embroidered badge of the Aldrin Colony Security Force sat over his left breast. He got some relief from the cold lunar floor by putting on his black polished gunfighter patrol boots. Equipment belt with cuffs, pepper foam, data slate, and commo booster clipped on around his waist. Glock ten millimeter checked, locked and loaded.
“Fat lot of good a ten mill is going to do against a terrorist.” He slipped it into the holster. Never fired in anger, hope I never have to. Too heavy anyway. The round is too big and clumsy.
He checked himself in the mirror, useless because he could only see his face. It was an old habit, smoothing out the polo shirt before he put on the mirrored smartlens commolink. When he turned to leave, the backpack full of food and clothes was still there by the door.
I should leave well enough alone.
I can help Taylor, the other side of him argued. He’s not as messed up as the others. He’s not like Timmy.
Leave it alone, the cop in him argued back.
“Shit,” he picked up the backpack and keyed his molar implant mike. “Delta Two-forty.”
“Delta Two-forty?” Dispatch repeated.
* * *
“My life is one big weeping hole of hot, stinking shit,” Taylor said, rolling over Officer McAllister’s polished boots, smudging the mirrored perfection.
God, what a slob. Beer bulbs over there. A half-eaten sandwich, the meat I can’t identify. Why am I bothering? It’s not too late to leave him here. Jesus, he stinks. “Come on. You got any weapons on you? Anything I need to know about? Get up.”
Taylor was wrapped in a ragged, greasy blanket that reminded McAllister of a quilted poncho liner. Both Armstrong and Aldrin Lunar Colonies issued out two sets of such blankets, originally blue in color, to everyone who came. A ripe, tangy staleness rose from Taylor as he flopped his blanket aside and started to roll around. Underneath that was torn coveralls and a worn pair of sneakers, no socks.
“Let’s go. I can’t be screwing with you all day. Why don’t you come with me to the Arbor? You can take a bath in the fountain, get yourself cleaned up. I’ll make sure nobody messes with you.”
“Shit,” Taylor said.
“Agreed. Come on.”
A few more minutes of prodding and poking got Taylor packed up and rolling down the Arcade down toward the Arbor. McAllister trailed behind as the homeless man stumbled along past the shrouded shops, mounds of trash, and discarded equipment.
“Why do you screw me around so much?”
“I’m not screwing with you. It’s dangerous in Mutawaland.” He stopped for a second as a bit of dust popped out from the ceiling, just past the still functioning, holographic sky. McAllister sneezed. “The sky is falling. Yeah, you don’t want to be sleeping down here.”
They pushed past the bright orange safety mesh that had been thrown up over the Sector Four Arcade, stepping into the Arbor. McAllister saw the Arbor the way it was when he first arrived at Aldrin. Big as a football stadium filled with maples, oaks and other green stuff. Green grass and couples of various flavors pushing baby carriages while their walking ones bounded, screeched and screamed as if they’d been shot or stabbed. Mischievous smiles said they were fine, just greedy for attention. Others were lying around on blankets under a fraudulent sky with sunglasses for the underground sun. Kids chucking rocks into the koi pond through the mesh that kept the orange aquanauts in their altered watery domain.
They shuffled over dead brown greyness through the silence past parched bushes and crumbling trees. Autumn summer was in permanent residence. It was blessedly quiet. No screaming kids. Only the false blue holosky five stories above remained of the past, effective camouflage for a rock ceiling. Trash, graffiti, and broken park furniture littered the landscape.
Looks too much like the corner of Truman and Pendergast, McAllister thought. Timmy would probably love it here. Only place I don’t have to worry about cracking my skull against the ceiling. “Taylor, why don’t you go use that fountain over there?”
“I fought in Iraq, you know,” Taylor said, turning to face McAllister, he fell down instead.
Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. Wouldn’t be the first homeless person to pull that fake combat veteran crap on me. Why is he still on the damned ground? God, Timmy had more sense than to wallow on the ground. “Come on, man. I can’t arrest you today. Detention is jammed four thick to a cell.”
“Don’t like tight places,” Taylor said, low-crawling over dead grass and lunar soil. “I fought in Iraq.”
It does look a lot like the sand in Iraq, McAllister thought. We’ve been there forty years and they are still taking potshots at us. Popped Airman Ferris out there on the flight line at Baghdad International when I was there. Right through the jugular. Never seen so much red.
And I thought I’d be safe up here on the Moon. I’m an idiot. Should have stayed in the Air Force and volunteered for another tour in Korea. Old Fu’ad al-Mutawa sure screwed that up, didn’t he? Who’d have thought a terrorist could infiltrate Aldrin Colony as an environmental support tech? That was four years ago and I still don’t believe it.
Those clowns in the Middle East think Mutawa is a saint or something. Got pictures of him all over the place, like he was some gansta or some shit. Why is Taylor still low-crawling through the damned dirt? “You don’t want me to get you up. Why don’t you stay at the shelter, for Christ sakes?”
Taylor crawled to his hands and knees, “They beat me there.”
Some questions I just shouldn’t ask. “Who beat you? Damn it, if you don’t get off the ground, I’ll start beating you.” He grabbed him by the arm and hauled him over to the fountain.
“Keep your mouth shut while I call in, then you’re going to tell me what happened,” McAllister bit down on his molar implant. “This is Delta Two-forty, I’ll be with a subject for welfare check.”
Dispatch flashed an acknowledgment onto his mirror-framed smart lenses.
“All right, Taylor sit down here,” McAllister got him sitting upright with his feet dangling above the fountain surface. The September Memorial Fountain was one of the few things the colony administration maintained on the south side of the Arbor.
“Take your shoes off.”
“No, you do it.”
“Like hell. I’m not touching those stinky feet. Take them off.”
Muttering curses about procreational incest, Taylor reached over and started popping velcro straps loose. McAllister put on a pair of rubber gloves, pulled out his data slate and started taking notes.
“What size shoes do you wear?”
“Whatever fits,” Taylor replied. “Why do you care?”
You couldn’t always have been this screwed up, “Size eight? Nine, maybe?”
“Eight and a half,” Taylor shivered, setting the left shoe aside.
“Sold,” McAllister wrote it down. Maybe Sergeant Wei can get me a pair of shoes for him.
Taylor leaned in, his odor, a vanguard of sour decay.
“Don’t fall over on me,” McAllister reached with his gloved hand, pushing Taylor’s greasy, grey forehead away. He gave Taylor a canvas water bucket, a towel and a bar of pumice soap from his backpack. “Lean over the side there and try to get some water into this bucket. Don’t fall in, either. Lie on your stomach...”
“Yeah, yeah,” Taylor said, waving McAllister off.
“Don’t puke in the water, either.” He sure is a lot like Timmy, McAllister thought. Have to do every little damned thing for him while he nips at the hand that feeds him. I ought to get up and walk away. I don’t even really know this asshole.
I can help him, the older brother inside argued.
Like I did Timmy? Please. Should stick to tough love, cop instinct replied.
Tough love didn’t work for Timmy.
Dispatch flashed McAllister for a status report.
“Crap. I haven’t even been here a minute yet,” he bit down on his implant. “This is Delta Two-forty, Still on welfare check.”
Taylor rolled over onto his stomach and with his bearded face pressed against the grey stone, held the bucket over the side into until it was pregnant with water. Gritting his teeth, he pulled it back up to the top with more effort spent on controlling his internal gyroscope than with the weight.
“I used one of these in Iraq,” he said. “Used to take bitch baths with them. Felt so good after a long run up to Baghdad.”
McAllister couldn’t say, on that score. He’d been in Iraq forty years after Taylor may or may not have been there. He grabbed the canvas bucket from hydroponics when no one was looking. They were popular colony wide because they could be collapsed into a small storage space like the one in his quarters.
He handed Taylor a pair of blue shorts, “I’ll give you these if you promise not to shit your drawers in them. Promise me?”
Taylor nodded solemnly, “Promise.” He took the shorts.
Yeah, right, McAllister thought, shaking his head. Probably find them in the Portside bathroom next week like a month old diaper. “Go off over to them bushes, scrub up and swap out.”
“Okay, okay.” Taylor collected everything with great care, almost afraid to soil the items with his blackened fingers. “Why do you help me?”
“Because I’m an idiot.”
“Okay, okay,” Taylor shuffled off.
“Hey, toss those overalls to me,” McAllister said, pulling a fresh set of Air Force coveralls from his backpack.
Taylor, after a minute or two hobbling from foot to foot, wiggled out of his rags and tossed them. McAllister caught them, holding his head away from the stench, and started going through the pockets. Don’t want to find anything illegal. Won’t fly at all with Chief Sullivan, post-Mutawa or not. Where the hell is his wallet? Every man has a wallet, least they should.
Taylor did. It was a synthetic, ragged number bound with grey duct tape and velcro.
“Don’t be poking in my stuff,” Taylor shouted from the bushes.
“Shut up,” McAllister said, thumbing through the wallet.
Let’s see, got lots of trash, receipts. Where the hell does he get this money? Nobody has any money any more. Picture of a mom and son that’s got that eighties thing going for it. Kid’s wearing one of those polos with the alligator on it, the collar up. What a dork. Hey, got a Federal Healthcare Card. Even has “veteran” stamped on it. Maybe he was in the Army.
McAllister ran the card along the slide of his data slate and requested emergency clearance. Taylor’s medical record popped onto his slate. He started reading.
Really was in Iraqi Freedom. Crap, took an RPG round through the front of his Hemmet and killed his Sergeant in the passenger seat. Shit. Those eight-wheeled trucks draw sniper fire like bees to honey. Fat juicy targets. Reading on here, got shrapnel wounds to his left leg, shuffling limp. Has a drinking problem and mild schizophrenia.
A drinking problem? No shit?
“Back off, I’ll take you on. Da da, dah da da dah,” emerged off tune from behind the bush.
“What the...” McAllister’s Glock Ten mill hung heavy on his hip.
Taylor scratched on, “Back off, I’ll take you on, headstrong...”
I’ve heard that song before. My roommate used to listen to that band. God they were old when I was an Airman. What the hell was the band’s name? Sure beats the crap out of that country western shit I had to listen to in Osan. Like I’d need to shoot him anyway. This guy is a wreck. What’s the record say? Last address at Armstrong Colony as a crawler driver, four years ago.
How’d he get here? It wasn’t like you could hop a train and hobo your way across the Sea of Tranquility to Aldrin. You had to take a bus across the surface or fly. You damn sure didn’t walk the nine hundred or so klicks to get here.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Steven Francis Murphy