How about something a little different today? Here’s the first part of a short story I wrote a while back. This has nothing to do with any of my other pieces, it’s just fun.
My name’s Slocum Rexx. That’s spelled with two x-ses; make sure you get it right. Most people get that mixed up, on account of the first ‘x’ being silent. There’s some other Rex family with one ‘x’ out there that caused a whole pile of mayhem some while back. I ain’t one of them.
Anyways. I work Maintenance on the Midway Station. Well, this is the Primary Midway Station—I know they’ve got several, but no one calls them Midway. Just this one. It’s floating somewhere in what used to be the Alps, on Old World Earth. We’ve been chained in place between the land city Carpathian and the sky city Viterius. You know, capitals of the grounders and the cloud folk. Midway is the stopping point.
Why? You know. Cloud folk breathe different than grounders. The air up in the sky is real thin. Some of them that been born native up there even got different biological capabilities to deal with it. And grounders got to deal with all that extra air, mixed with pollen and spores and junk. They don’t do well up in the clouds. So everyone comes through Midway. To adjust, like. That means that we middlings see everybody at one point or another. And everybody makes a whole pile of mess.
That’s where I come in. I’m the best maintenance worker they’ve got on Midway. Three square miles of floating city chained to rock a thousand feet below—trust me, we got all sorts of mechanical issues, not to mention more problems than I care to count with interpersonal relations, specially between the cloud folk and the grounders. What? Oh, right. No, you’ve got the wrong idea. See, Old World maintenance meant something different from Midway maintenance. I mean, sure, I handle all the regular stuff: fixing the breather units for grounders, the deprivation units for cloud folk; seeing the lift drives don’t up and give out on us; handling communications units, making sure they reach all of World, as well as the closest spacer colonies. But I do other stuff, too. Handle the little diplomatic problems. Make sure that grounders and cloud folk don’t get into fights—middlings know better—and that people don’t make a ruckus trading goods. Manage the docking ports. Keep the peace. And whatever we do, make sure that no crime goes unsolved or, stars forbid, makes it on the vids for people to see.
Maintenance, you know? Maintaining the status quo?
Yeah. It’s a job. But I’ve been doing this job since I was an idiot just out of the education system. Phew, twenty-odd years now. I’m the best maintenance worker Midway’s got. That’s why they won’t promote me, see.
So, you want to know what happened a few months back, right? The Mercurian incident, wasn’t it? Yeah, that was a real mess, alright. Jammed up the works nice and good. But we got it fixed in the end. Got lucky, too. Higherups took the rap for it, leaving me and my buddy Silver to handle most of it no problems. Alright, some problems.
Anyways. All started back a few moons. Right between the annual switch for the cloud folk from solar to heat differential propulsion systems. Always makes a big fuss, sends loads of them down to Midway for the shift. I hear it raises a whole big stink while their maintenance workers fix the kinks the system picked up during the bright seasons. Pff, they must be some idiot maintenance workers up there, can’t keep a system in working order during off-season.
Well, anyways, Silver and I got a call to go and check out some dead stiff in a disabled electrics duct…
I met Silver at the electrics duct sometime between one and two in the morning — we were always on call so it was not unfamiliar to need to get up at that particular hour, but it was a bit annoying. I had been right in the middle of the REM cycle and was going to regret that loss later. Silver seemed to be just as usual, as awake as always, as trimmed and proper as always. She was sort of like a cat, her cybernetics arm as spick and span as a human one, always made sure that her blue uniform was pressed in the white undershirt never managed to get any dirt or grease on it at all. I had seen her crawl through some of the heat differential ductwork’s and come out the other end looking just as clean as ever. One of those mysteries of the universe. Me on the other hand, I was there a little less neat and tidy. Silver was always after me to get a haircut, said she knew some real good cloud folk turned middling barber that would do fair well for a guy like me. I just shrugged and tossed the hair back into some knot, tying my jumpsuit around my waist and hoping that I didn’t have to replace my shirt this week and maybe could make it last to the next. I seem to have to buy new set just about every other week, the action supposedly needed once a month.
Anyways. Silver met me at the electrics duct which was cordoned off by a whole bunch of flashy drones and one of the more resolute of the security types — security types were not so good at the investigation bits, but they sure were good at making sure things were secure. Our jobs overlapped a fair bit, to the point where some people didn’t know whether or not they should be calling maintenance or security so they called both. This is one of those times, but I didn’t mind because the guy working with the security was a decent chap. A bit short to be guarding something that was six feet off the ground, but a decent chap.
“Hey Slow,” Silver said, greeting me with the signature touch of her cybernetics fingers to her forehead. She said it was some sort of Old World salute, meant to show respect. But I doubted that the Old World people who were saluting usually accompanied it with that mocking smile. I grunted my greeting, shoved my hands into my pockets, and looked into the open ductwork.
“What idiot decided that it was a good idea to open a duct at two in the morning?” I asked. “What do we got?”
“That guy.” Silver stood up on her tiptoes and looked over the list of the air duct, getting some of her black hair right in my face. I ignored that and waited until she was finished looking with her bionic eye, knowing she could see more than I could.
“I’d say he’s cloud folk,” she said. “His skin’s fried from close proximity to the sun, touched up with all those synthetics they got up there. White hair, probably bleached by sun exposure. Looks to be in decent shape, for his age. Clothing is ordinary, nothing special. Maybe some sort of uniform, if he wore official maintenance types like us. But I don’t think so.”
Silver stepped back so I could take a look for myself. I gave a low whistle at the sight that met me. This dead guy had managed to be folded nearly in half and shoved halfway into a tube that looks like it led to the lift engines, but really went nowhere. We had a lot of those around, for some of the more localised electrical systems. This one looked to be part of an oxygen deprivation system from the middling bar two doors down. I sniffed the guy but caught nothing more than the scent of decay that comes from being shoved into a system of live electrical pieces. Half of the guy’s skull was bashed in, the blood staining his white hair quite red. It didn’t look as though it was clotted, maybe an hour dead at most. I didn’t know the guy personally, but unlike Silver, I did recognise the uniform. It was a uniform: all black, high collar, hidden little pockets. I pulled back and shoved my hands back into my pocket, looking between Silver and the security guy.
“Well, it ain’t good. This guy, well he runs security for one of those big cloud folk mining families up there. And not our type of security either. He’s at the more dangerous end of things. Make sure that all of the mining operations are perfectly secure, and that nothing bad or untoward happens to anyone and those mining families. I don’t know which one he works for, but I’d say he’s not working for them anymore.”
“So you think this was official like?” Silver asked. She looked up to me with a wicked curious gleam in her eyes. She was young, maybe twenty-five cycles or so. She still had that wicked curious gleam about a lot of the nastier stuff that our business got into. Wasn’t so good for me, since I was always having to get her out of scrapes. Or she was getting me out of scrapes.
I shrugged. “I’d say this probably wasn’t sanctioned by one of the families. More like their enemies got a hold of them. Well, let’s get the guy out of there. All he’s doing is gumming up the works. Them club folk are gonna be wanting their deprivation tanks before too very long.”
I shooed to the security guy away, telling them we could take it from here. After all, the scene was secured and would soon be back to normal. No need for anything to keep him from his REM sleep. After he was gone, I pulled out one of my laser cutters and started cutting through the electrical wires that tangled around the guy. The laser cauterised the wires so that nothing live would set off more problems. It was annoying, but better than getting up shocked while trying to get the guy out of there. I handed Silver the laser cutter, then leaned into the shaft, wrapping my arms around the guy and pulling out. It wasn’t the nicest way to do this, nor the cleanest, but it was the fastest. Any information we would get about the guy wouldn’t come from inside the electric shaft. Stuff burned hotter than all get out, and any trace evidence is usually made completely useless after three or four hours contact with the ductwork. Luckily for us, this guy had managed to cause a short, which overloaded the duct and kept him from being turned into a crisp. I struggled to lay the guy on the deck, considering he was probably four or five inches taller than me and somehow out-weighed me by a good three or four cargo holds. He was one of those super fit guys, probably enhanced with all sorts of synthetics. Once he was laid out on the deck it was a whole lot easier to see his face. The whole right side had been branded with some sort of swirly tattoo, inked in a deep purple which faded to black.
“Ah, stars. This guy is part of the head family themselves. Mercurian,” I said. Silver looked at me, frowning.
“Mercurians,” she said. “What are they doing down here? I thought they never left Viterius, instead choosing to travel to other cloud cities by spacer.”
I shrugged. “Well we had one of them down here way back when, before my time. Apparently it was some sort of big scandal on the cloud cities, there was trying to come down here for some the groundlings drug or who knows what Agro business deal. Most of the time, they just stay up in the clouds, mining for trace elements and weather seeding. Tariffs on spacers, that sort of thing. I hear they got a great gaggle of the spacers for some of the excess atmo. Not to mention space dock fees, and the fact that they basically run everything up there.”
Silver handed me my laser cutter again and I shoved it back into my pocket. I leaned over and held up the guy’s hand, so Silver could look at it and gather his fingerprints. If I thought hard enough, I could almost hear her bionic eye clicking steadily as she took pictures. I once asked her what it was that it happened to her get her kitted up with some of the best equipment I’ve ever seen, but she wouldn’t tell me. She wouldn’t tell me why she was working maintenance either. That’s all right, I don’t tell her stuff either. That’s not what we do.