So far, the story is 16277 words long. This means I’m behind in the NaNoWriMo word count. Working nine days straight will do that. Regardless, I’m pretty psyched by this story. It’s my first foray into science fiction world building. When I wrote the scene at the ruined space port, I had no idea what the rest of the world was like. I had a vivid image in my mind of rusting gantries and warehouses, but I didn’t realize that the space port was part of a city. I also didn’t realize that the city was surrounded by mud, a whole world of liquid mud and endless rain. This, however, means that there’s a glaring problem with Part One. A world this cloudy wouldn’t have much moonlight A shame really since I liked the idea of a moon named ‘Cujo’. No worries though. ‘Cujo’ will reappear at some point. Maybe when they manage to get off world…..
****************************************************************************************************************************************************************The The foursome arrived at the door; the goon on point striding through and swinging the muzzle of the slug thrower in a slow arc to cover the room.
“Persephone,” it was a man in the floppy hat, then, ‘We noted the camera system on the roof. We assume the inside is similarly monitored. We appreciate your caution, but the nature of our negotiations do require some privacy. Just a very little. I do apologize for damaging your equipment.”
There was a click, a sizzle and then the five cameras that Persephone had placed around the periphery of the room exploded. Persephone stopped grinning. She was pissed, but not angry enough to jump out of cover yet.
“That’s better. Now are you ready to hear our proposal?”
“I guess. That guy with the gun can step out.”
“But if you happen to be armed, yourself?”
“Guns are bad for business. Didn’t you guys ready my holo-ad? Discrete services. No shootings, stabbings, lacerations or contusions.”
“Yes. Yes. A charming sentiment and a brilliant ad campaign, but how much faith should we put in advertisements?”
“Turn your weapon sniffers on me. I assume you have them.” Persephone stepped out from behind a stack of empty barrels. She was wearing black latex so tight that it wouldn’t take a chemical sniffer to rule out the fact that she was unarmed. There simply wasn’t anywhere to hide anything. She liked to present herself in a professional way. It kept the opposition distracted.
The goons goggled, but the guy in the coat just sighed.
“Earnesto, please scan the lady and then leave.”
The guy slung the gun and took out a chemical sensor wand. He screened Persephone from a distance, nodded to his boss and stepped outside. Persephone resisted the temptation to set off the laser mine under him. It would ruin her ad campaign.
“So what’s this job you have?”
“Are you familiar with H-craft racing, Ms. Persephone?”
Persephone knew what it was, but didn’t really have much interest. It was a popular sport on the colony world. Engineering firms competed with each other to design and race the fastest hover craft. The government sanctioned the sport and even footed some of the prize money. It was the only legal gambling outlet on the colony. Though there were rumors that more money could be made by rigged matches or under the table speculation. Persephone found it boring. Just the mention of it and her interest in the job waned a bit. She was hoping for some kind of juicy political deal. Instead she’d come all the way out here and wasted five perfectly good cameras just to listen to some mob goon pitch her a rigged gambling scheme.
“Stupid sport,” she said. “Keeps the local red necks busy.”
“Actually, Its sponsors include some of the wealthiest and best engineering and scientific minds on the colony. More new tech comes out of H-craft racing than any other industry.”
“That just tells you what a sorry state the colony is in. The Stellar Ark took the last of the space capable ships and left us planet-bound. We don’t have the Old Sol engineering records and can’t remake any of the craft that got us here. Instead, Dete Fleet, Albion and the other manufacturers waste their effort on H-craft. Toys for rich playboys if you ask me.”
“Is it red necks or rich playboys? Can’t be both.”
“Playboys drive them while the red necks watch.“
The man doffed his hat revealing a face that Persephone found vaguely familiar. Black hair, brown eyes, a square chin and a thick-lipped mouth twisted into a rueful grimace. “I drive for Albion. Thanks for sharing your opinion. Do you still want to know the job?”
Persephone clapped her hand over her mouth. This wasn’t just some playboy pilot, this was THE playboy pilot. Archimedes Albion, the second son of Paul and Eva Albion and something of a black sheep in the family. His older brother and sister had gone into the engineering end of the business while Archimedes had a penchant for drinking, driving and screwing anything that moved. Or at least that’s what the tabloids said. His personal life aside, the man knew how to navigate an H-craft. Won the New Regime pennant three cycles in a row. That was why Persephone had recognized him. The man’s face was plastered across nearly every t-shirt in the colony. And that was even considering the fact that the man had been sitting the bench for the past half annum. Had a spectacular wipeout in the Cujo 10 K and had been out of the spotlight since.
“You’re looking well Mr. Albion,” Persephone said. “All things considered.”
“Mr. Albion is my father. You can call me Arch. Or double ‘A’ if you like.”
“Like the battery?”
“A sexy woman who knows her history books, “ Arch’s smile was a lot warmer now, a little on the smoldering side. “I have been told that I have a lot of energy.”
“Good for you. Now what’s the job, and while you’re at it you can tell me what’s up with the trench coat and hat. You don’t strike me as the noir type.”
“I am a celebrity,” the man shrugged.
“People recognize me. The press follows me.”
“And you’re hiring me to do something illegal?”
“We prefer the term ‘unethical’, but the government might quibble with that label. Is this likely to tax your delicate sensibilities?”
Persephone snorted. “Just tell me what it is and how much you’re willing to pay. Then double it. I’ll need the cash to salve my conscience”
“Albion would like to hire you for some industrial piracy. We want you to infiltrate the eXime engineering firm and find the blueprints for their latest H-craft design.”
“Who’s eXime?” The name had never made the news.
“We’re not entirely sure. It seems to be a wing of the eXBioform engineering firm, but there are rumors that they have government backers. They fronted their first craft in the last Regency Cup. Didn’t win it, but came damn near close. After that, they’ve won every single match, all without any driving talent at all. It’s their tech.” Doube A lowered his voice and leaned in to whisper, “Genuine antigravity. Have no idea how they did it.”
“Seriously?. Not even Old Sol had that.” Persephone shook her head “No. Not possible. And why would anyone waste that type of tech on H-craft?”
“You might understand if you drove one.” Arch gave her an appraising look. “You should try it. Or at least come to a race with me. Consider it research.”
“Hey. I didn’t say I was going to take the job. What’s the pay?”
“A million credits” The sum sounded particularly appealing when delivered in Arch’s husky voice. Hell, it would have been appealing in any voice. She could retire on that sum.
“If it’s genuine anti-grav, Albion has to have it. It goes way beyond racing. Think about the potential. We can return to orbit, recover space travel, get off the colony. The government won’t like it. They’re happy running their own little police state here, being the biggest fish in a small barrel. Why do you think they let that cult off world with the remaining shuttles? It sure wasn’t religious sentiment.”
Persephone nodded. “I’ll need to do a little preliminary analysis first. See who these eXime people are. Just to evaluate the risk. For all I know one million might not be enough.” She tried to keep the excitement out of her voice. It would be impossible to negotiate if Arch knew that she was hooked. This really was her kind of caper: an unknown adversary, government suppression, world changing technology.
“Okay, beautiful, but we’re going to need an answer in a day. And the next race is coming up in three. You’ll need to be there to see eXime in action. Consider it a date.”
“Hey. I didn’tsay I would take the job.” But privately, Persephone was pretty sure that she would.
She started her research with the usual online sources. Arch had been correct. eXime was a subholding of eXBioform, a biotechnology company that focused on two research area: identifying colony world life forms that could be converted to human use or attempting to adapt Old Sol crops to colony world conditions. Here that meant adapting them to grow in low light, wet conditions. The things that the colony had in abundance were cloud cover, water, and multicolored algae. It was the water of course that had attracted settlers to the planet. Liquid water was a precious commodity in the initial expansion phase of the Old Sol empire. Mostly for the hydrogen content. The world was otherwise resource poor, hardly any metal. Hence the riots in 2530 when the launch facility was cannibalized for raw materials to help support the colony infrastructure. The best H-crafts were ceramic and much of the engineering that went into them was focused on making them stronger and lighter. The colony world had plenty of silica-based sludge that was readily converted into light, strong, glass-like composites. In fact, most of the landmass of the planet was really just a shifting slurry of water and silica rich sand. The original colony city had been sunk onto a cement foundation that resisted drifting, but the shanty town that grew up around the city was raised out of the muck on glass stilts. Unlike the advanced composite tech of the H-craft chassis their engines were quite primitive. Fans and baffles created an air cushion that raised the craft out of the muck and ethanol powered rear thrusters drove them forward.