by Steven Francis Murphy
Part 1 appeared in issue 120.
McAllister pulled out an ID card for Lunarsouth Mining. He ran the defunct company ID card through the slate to learn that Aldrin Colony was Taylor’s last job posting before the company went belly up in the post-terrorist lunar environment.
“You drive crawlers, Taylor?” Dispatch requested another status report. McAllister bit down and acknowledged it.
“Don’t be looking through my shit,” Taylor said, and went back to humming and splashing. A pool of darkening lunar soil grew moist under him behind the dark green bush. “What’s with the charity anyway?”
“Because I’m a hopeless twit. Are you almost done? Some of us have work to do.”
“I didn’t ask for any charity.”
“Bullshit. You harass people up on the Portside Concourse every day around about noontime with your ‘can you spare a buck’ nonsense. Why are you even here? Why didn’t you catch a shuttle home?”
Taylor came out from around the bushes, still shuffling but a bit more upright. His left thigh was a patchwork of scar tissue running down to the knee joint. A barrage of purple black welts ran up and down the course of Taylor’s body. He had a long scar across his abdomen from the bottom of his ribcage down to somewhere near his hips. McAllister wasn’t sure where the scar ended. He lost track of it at the new shorts’ waistline.
He handed Taylor a pair of blue, U.S. Air Force coveralls and his wallet. “Here, try this on. I didn’t see anything else in your other set of rags.”
Taylor rolled the sleeves up, put the blue coveralls on, then velcroed the front shut. “Nice,” taking his wallet back from McAllister.
“So, I’ll get you some new shoes. But you have to do me two favors.” He’s humming that song again. What the hell was that band’s name? Track, Tramp, or was it Traft, maybe? “Taylor? You hear me? I need two favors.”
The vagrant nodded dripping water as he inspected his wallet. “Sure.”
“First, I need you to stay out of Mutawaland. We’ve found three dead homeless people in the last two weeks there. I don’t want to be filling out paperwork on a fourth. Tell your friends the air doesn’t circulate right. Too thin.”
Taylor gazed into nowhere, still humming.
“Do you hear me, Taylor?”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about it, would you?” One had been stabbed, the others were due to oxygen starvation. Another officer was working the stabbing.
Taylor looked up at McAllister, eyes twisting into focus. He opened his mouth, then closed it again before speaking, “No, no, no, officer. I don’t know anything about it. I don’t spend much time around other people. They beat me.”
Still need to find how about that. Who beats him?
“The other favor I need is that you need to stay out of the Portside Concourse at noon time. People don’t like being bothered.”
“Rich people. That is why we go there. Barney goes up...”
“I don’t give a shit about Barney so long as he doesn’t come up to the Portside Concourse or gets caught doing something stupid down here in the Arbor. Two favors, can you repeat them?”
Taylor repeated them, “But how am I going to eat?”
You mean, how are you going to get hammered? You’re not if I have anything to do with it. “There is the Mission Hall. They can feed you, get you fitted out to go Earthside.”
“They said I’ve been here too long, cost too much to get me ready for the trip. Have to be in ‘peak condition’ they say.”
“What a load of crap.”
“Cost money to send a pound through space. If you are fat and rich, you can pay for it, or your company can pay for it. I’m not fat, but I’m not worth much either.”
A transmission buzzed its way straight into McAllister’s skull. “Dispatch to Delta Two-forty, there is a disturbance on the north side of the Arbor. Alpha and Bravo Two-forty are ten-six, can you respond?”
“Delta Two-forty, on the way,” McAllister handed the pack to Taylor. “There’s some food in there. Don’t go selling them for beer money, take the detox pills.
“I don’t need no detox pills.”
“The hell you don’t. We’ll talk later,” McAllister bounded up, floating into the air. Shit, you’re on the Moon. One-six grav, damn it. Shuffle, don’t jump or run.
* * *
“Hey, McAllister. The Chinese say they just past the twenty thousand mark. You get that crap? Why aren’t we keeping up with them?” the desk clerk asked as McAllister stepped into Aldrin Security Headquarters after dealing with the false alarm on the north side of the Arbor. Behind the clerk on the wall was the bright blue flag for the Department of Lunar Affairs. An embroidered map of the Sea of Tranquility surrounded by a wreath of golden wheat dominated the center of the department banner. Two white stars dotted the map, one for Armstrong Colony near the Apollo 11 landing site, and the other for Aldrin on the other side of Tranquility.
McAllister glanced at the red and black digital counter that told the public America had 7,942 citizens on the moon, losing the population race with the Chinese.
There wasn’t a readout for the homeless and unemployed.
Who gives a shit about the Chinese, or the Indians? They’ve got plenty of people to lose and no room Earthside. Hell, I’m all for letting them have this ball of crap.
The more rational part of him wondered where he would end up if the United States gave up on the Second Great Space Race.
“Is Sergeant Wei in?”
“Yeah, he’s back in the Supply Hole,” the clerk said, pointing past the glassed in Dispatch Center toward the Admin and Supply Tube.
That clerk isn’t worth a damn. Ought to shove him into one of these telephone-booth sized cubicles Aldrin gives us for office space. Ought to check mine later and see if I have an extra poncho liner for Taylor. He could probably use a clean one.
“Hey, Greg,” Sergeant Wei waved at him from the bottom of the narrow tube of offices. He was cleaning one of the spare Glock Service Weapons. Wei kept his hair close cropped, which displayed the numerous lumps splattered across his skull.
Wei’s head looks like a damned cauliflower, McAllister thought, a beaten-up cauliflower, “Alex, I need a favor.”
“Everyone always needs a favor,” Wei said, putting the spring back into the lower receiver. “What’s it worth to you?”
“Too much and not enough, probably,” McAllister said, leaning against the two-part door with counter built into it. “I need a pair of shoes, doesn’t have to be fancy. Prefer a size eight and a half, though I could press by with a size nine.”
“What for?” Wei asked, setting down the lower receiver and picking up the upper slide to wipe nonexistent dust from the inside. “You wear a size ten.”
“My feet shrunk.” Like Wei will buy that. “What will it cost me?”
“The truth, probably,” Wei placed the upper slide onto the lower receiver and pulled it back into place. He ran the weapon through a function check and set it back into the pistol rack to his left. “You’re helping another dirtbag, aren’t you?”
How does he know about Taylor? I haven’t told anyone. “No.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No.” So what if I am?
“Whatever, you going to help me or not?”
“I moan and groan about my ex-wife and how she wants my balls in a mason jar to show her friends back home.” He turned and descended deep into the shelf-stuffed depths of his supply and weapons cubicle, “But you don’t tell me shit.”
God, not the wife bit again. “I do too,” McAllister shouted back.
“No,” Wei was coming back from the deep.
“Yes.” Shit, are you going to help me or not?
“My ass,” Wei set shoes onto the counter. “Here you go.”
“Great, thanks,” McAllister reached for them.
Wei held onto them, “I said they aren’t free.”
“Never is with you, what is it?”
“That’s why I’m supply.”
“What is it?”
Wei leaned over the door counter. “This has got to be the last one. I can’t keep covering your tracks forever. Chief Sullivan wants to audit my shop. She’s noticed some things are a bit short.” Wei released the shoes and turned his back to the door, reaching for something from the weapons rack. McAllister took the shoes and stuffed them into a backpack.
“Fair enough.” There are always things missing out of supply, McAllister almost said, but caught himself in time.
Wei turned back toward the counter, holding one of the colony’s four shotguns. “It had better be,” he said, beginning to dismantle the Smith and Wesson Lunar Service Twelve Gauge, allowing the barrel to dip a little too close to McAllister. “Because drinking buddies or no, it won’t be my pecker on the chopping block if this blows up in your face. Do you hear me, Greg?”
“I hear you, Alex. Thanks. First one’s on me at Hammer’s after I get paid tomorrow.”
“Better be more than one,” Wei grinned.
* * *
“He was frozen solid as a rock when the guard found him. Nearly broke his foot when he kicked him,” the coroner grinned. “It was a first rate bitch trying to thaw him out enough to get him onto the slab. And the actual cutting? Hell, I thought I was going to need a blowtorch. Timmy looked up at Greg.
“Hey, brother. You bring me something good, or is it more of that detox shit?” Timmy said. “Doc here sure had a hell of a time. He could probably use some as well. Course, being a doctor and all, he’s probably got his own special shit. Wish he had given me some to thaw my ass out.”
Timmy popped the stitches and winked at him. His cloudy frozen yellowed dead eyes stared past the broken black stitches.
McAllister jerked awake after banging his head against the ceiling, “Shit.”
He waited for one-six to pull him to his mattress, rubbing the fresh knot on his forehead. Once he made contact with the surface, he rolled out of bed for the mirror.
“That’s going to leave a mark,” McAllister said, prodding the growing, purple lump on his forehead. “Be nice to have a little more head room in my rack. Shit.” He turned back to make his bunk and lay his uniform before he started shaving.
“Ought to give up on Taylor now,” McAllister said, shaving around his global cheeks.
He’s worth saving. He’s a veteran, just like me, McAllister argued with himself.
“No I can’t save him,” he said, wiping his face clean. He dressed. Trousers, shirt, polished boots, equipment belt. Glock checked, locked and loaded, he slipped the weapon into the holster.
He signaled Dispatch, “McAllister, Ten-forty-one.” He went for the door and saw the backpack full of fresh supplies for Taylor.
“You should leave it,” he said. “You’re only going to get hurt.”
Timmy’s ghost pulled at his guts. You can help him, his charitable nature tugged at his heart.
“Shit,” he grabbed the backpack and left his cubicle.
* * *
“Taylor? Come out here into the Arbor. I’ve brought some stuff for you.” He stood there, just inside the orange safety mesh inside the Arcade. He swore he could hear the ceiling popping apart above him. Looking out at the dead trees in the Arbor, he wondered if maybe they shouldn’t have planted cactus instead of maple. “Come on, Taylor. I brought some good stuff this time.” Least it isn’t Vegetarian stew.
Taylor poked his head up from a pile of rags and carpet. “Did you bring beer?”
Again with the beer, kind of close in here today. “Why don’t you meet me by the fountain and see?”
McAllister left Mutawaland and sat down by the September Memorial Fountain. Taylor joined McAllister by the fountain a few minutes later. He sat down slow and easy, his joints cracking in spite of the lunar gravity. His coveralls were a bit dusty and worn, but in better shape than McAllister had expected.
“I got Turkey, Diced with Gravy, Taylor. Do you know what a bitch it is to get a hold of this one?”
The homeless man looked over into the bag, much as a dog would sniff at a trash can with his nose on the leading edge, “Don’t care much for Turkey. What else did you bring?”
“Beef Stew,” he handed it to Taylor.
“No beer, huh? Well, I like beef stew,” Taylor said, ripping open the plastic blue pack and taking each item out one at a time. He laid them on the fountain edge from right to left, starting with a pack of bread and working his way through the dessert and side items to the beef stew pack. With practiced ease, he pulled the heating strip on the beef stew and set it back onto the fountain edge.
McAllister pulled a data slate from his bag and handed it to Taylor. “Read it.”
Taylor took the slate, fumbled with it a bit before he could get it up and running. He poked at the “read” icon with great care. Once it was up, McAllister could see Taylor’s careworn, cloudy brown eyes traverse across the blue screen.
“This is a ticket Earthside. How?”
McAllister shrugged. “I have my connections.” My savings account, gutted just for you, dirtbag.
“You can go home now, get back to Earth, get your life back on track. There is even some money in a debit card and a couple of companies that are hiring drivers.”
McAllister stared at Taylor for a moment. The man’s face was cracked, parched sand-worn leather under a brittle mop of weedy grey hair. Not an ounce of fat was to be found on the man’s body, though the bags under his eyes suggested better days once upon a time.
He’s like that scrubby cousin of Snoopy’s from Charlie Brown. The one that lived in the desert under a tall cactus. What was his name? That nasty looking dog that was scrawny, wore sunglasses and a weather-beaten hat. Dad loved reading Charlie Brown to us. Timmy used to play like he was the Red Baron and shit. Sitting on top of the dog house out back.
“I don’t want to go to Earth,” Taylor said, finishing off the stew.
“Huh? What do you mean you don’t want to go back to Earth?”
“But why? It’s a shithole up here.” Why am I still here then? Worry about that later.
“It’s not so bad.” He watched the heating strip turn from white to red before going black. “A lot worse dirtside. It snows down there, you know.”
Timmy froze to death with a smile on his face. Remember that? Couldn’t help him either, could you?
Quit that, damn it. He stood up and paced around trying to lower his rising blood pressure. “Taylor, there isn’t anything up here. This colony is a ghost town in progress. The foundation is cracked and the air is too thin in Mutawaland. You could end up dead real quick.”
To be concluded...
Copyright © 2004 by Steven Francis Murphy