New Snippet – 3rd Chapter “The Middle of Nowhere”

Chapter 3

It was too late for lunch and too long until supper when April woke up. She searched in the kitchen and there wasn’t much to snack on. Her parents weren’t keeping much with just the two of them here. Suddenly April really wanted her own place with whatever she wanted in the frig not worrying about if somebody would miss that last carton of yogurt if she ate it. Would she ever be able to safely visit the house she bought in Hawaii again? She wasn’t even through furnishing it and she’d needed to run for her life. She’d never felt such a strong need to have her own space before. She’d always been content with her room.

Cubic was so expensive and she was spoiled having her own tiny bath. Was Eddie going to want some money back? He seemed happy with her last night in the cafeteria, but he’d hardly shout private business in her ear in that mob.

Her gramps had told her whatever she didn’t use was hers to keep when they sent her down, but then she’d rushed back early, and still wasn’t that sure she’d accomplished as much as everybody seemed to think when she got back. Better not to think on spending what might get clawed back. And she decided, if they want it back I’ll be gracious about it and not complain.

There was some cheese spread and she checked in the cupboard. A carton of crackers was almost full still. She took them in the big room and called up the news with stock quotes in the corner. She added Bob’s stocks under hers in the display from the hard copy Gramps gave her. She was only holding a few issues long when she went down to Earth.

Bob had more equities than her and she had no idea what some of them were. One showed a week long trend down a good 8% and she just sold it rather than start reading a big history and analysis. She’d have to establish she had control of the stocks with the brokerage house, but for now she had his login and password so she could trade them unless somebody had notified them of Bobs death. As she suspected it executed the trade with no problem.

In the news the Louisiana State Police conducted a sweep of public land and corporate timber stands eradicating hidden plots of guerrilla gardeners. Unlicensed gardens were both a way to evade accurate census counts and a source of black market income.

They vowed to post guards on conventional farming acreage to prevent a repeat of last year when illicit gardeners burned licensed farm fields in retaliation. The fires spread to timber land and destroyed a number of buildings. Official losses were classified under national security since it was considered terrorist activity.

California passed a bill requiring bathing costumes must cover the elbows and knees on all public beaches and parks, and making the possession and use of still or video cameras on a public beach a misdemeanor.

Tennessee introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor to sit any object on top of the Holy Bible with a five hundred dollar fine.

New York faced a firestorm of public criticism for suggesting an ordinance that would prohibit sending children unescorted in an automated ground car. Parents protested such a law would leave them unable to work and send their children to school safely.

Detroit Michigan announced a new initiative to revitalize the city, noting the core population had stabilized at twenty-two thousand now for three years. The pressure to dig up the old underground utility feeds in abandoned areas for the scrap value was running into opposition from those who didn’t want lines of clear cut dug up through the state owned wooded zone between New Detroit and the suburbs. The scheme was branded as suburban greed by the city council, claiming the recovered funds would go to the state not the city.

Windsor still refused to reopen the bridge to Detroit. Citing lower costs and crime stats in isolation, the Federal government said it was a matter for the City and Ontario. The Canadian side still had a moat around the southern bridge pier and the approach road was torn up and turned into a park.

Little Jocko the Clown died and over a hundred mourners who attended his funeral in New Jersey wearing his face pattern were charged with copyright infringement by his agency.

The Holistic Open School in London proclaimed reading was an unnecessary skill given universal character recognition and audio reading programs in every pad and com unit and eliminated the requirement from all their base courses of study. It was retained in a select group of courses in the arts program described as ‘arcane’ skills and as an aid for the few incurable deaf.

Gold was briefly higher than Platinum in early trading on the New Delhi exchange. Americans could not own the metal unless it was jewelry of ‘artistic merit’. April wasn’t sure if the piece around her neck qualified. Artistic appreciation seemed to vary from judge to judge.

The America First Party said they had removed a number of new members on suspicion of being former Patriot Party members. They cited a loss of ideological purity the new influx would bring and a real danger of proximity to that failed organization either physically or in the taint their programs carried.

April agreed they should worry. She was going to speak with Heather about watching to make sure the Patriot party did not just reappear under a new name.

Gunny dragged out of – his room? Bob’s room? It wouldn’t matter soon if it was merged back into family cubic. He looked stunned and grumpy. April got up and started the coffee maker before he even asked.

“That bed is way too soft for me to sleep on,” Gunny complained. “I woke up feeling like I was being consumed by this giant amoebae,” he said with his hands doing an englobement.” I could sleep on the floor easier I think.”

“Oh, there’s a control on the side that lets you set firmness and keep the bed warmer or cooler than the rest of the room. Nobody thought to show it to you,” she apologized.

“Everybody knows…” Gunny said smiling. “Won’t be the last time that happens.”

“I’m going to meet Heather and Jeff for supper. You want to come meet them and eat with us?” she invited. “They are good people to know on Home.”

“I’d like to, yes. However this brings up an awkward question I should have anticipated. How many hours a day do I owe you? And how can they be staggered out? I don’t mind working a shift or a block in the morning and a block in the evening. But I’d rather not work late and then have to get up and start early without sufficient rest. Unless it is an emergency of course. And am I on duty any time I am with you? Or will we socialize too?”

“Why wouldn’t we socialize? We seemed to get along just fine on the boat. I mean, if you found out you don’t really care for my company I certainly won’t require you to be around me, but didn’t you do stuff with the people you worked with on Earth?”

“No, very rarely. In the military you have a command structure. It’s bad for discipline to blur those lines. Officers have separate mess and don’t socialize with someone too far away from their command level. Some units might have a picnic or something occasionally, but it’s a special event. It’s the same as in business. The CEO doesn’t have lunch with the janitor. And it’s always the higher rank guy who initiates and controls it, not the other way around.”

“I meet with a group Wednesday nights for exercise and we do Thai Chi. The head of security is usually there and Jeff, but we have construction crew and radio room guys too. I guess we don’t have as big a gap from the best jobs to the worst jobs here. There’s some social layering, but it isn’t just who makes the most.”

Gunny looked a little skeptical. “Yeah, you might belong to a gym, or belong to a bicycle riding club or something and never even know what some of the people do for a living. But the people tend to be from similar social strata. If they are upper class they are going to belong to a country club and play golf or a sportsman’s club and shoot skeet, not a bowling league.”

“Does that mean you’d rather not ride if we need a fourth for our polo team?” April asked.

“Heh, you had me for a second there,” Gunny admitted after a tiny hesitation.

“Do what you want tonight. You should have a couple days off really to acclimate and learn where everything is. If you want to meet Heather and Jeff you are welcome to come along.”

“Well, I have to eat anyway. Better with company than sitting in the cafeteria alone. I’ll get to see if this guy is really eight foot high with laser beams shooting out of his eyes.”

“You probably couldn’t sit long in the cafeteria before somebody was curious about you and asked to join you. But come on. We’re going to the beam dogs cafeteria at the other end. It’s quite a bit different. It caters to the short term workers, the young folks who work in vacuum.

“”Does my new card work there too?”

“Yeah, but you asked about customs. Custom is we don’t crowd the place when it is busy with actual workers near shift change. They need to eat and get to work or maybe eat and get to bed. But if you go a little off – time then everybody is welcome. I never thought of it when you asked because  we don’t have a lot of rules. One other I thought of – It is considered very poor form to wear strong scent of any kind. Sealed up in limited cubic it’s rude to impose on others.”

“Oh yeah. I’ve been stuck in an elevator with some old lady that just bathes in that crap. You like to faint away before your floor comes up and you can escape. That’s a good one.”

“Gunny, people raised up here, who have never had their sense of smell dulled by pollution have really sensitive noses. All my friends carry sanitary wipes and don’t just wipe with paper after using the toilet, they wash with a wet wipe. You might think on adapting it because they will smell you if you don’t. A lot of people shower mid-day too. I always shower if I go to the gym and work out or have a run.”

“Is there any limit on water use? Or is it metered and the charges will add up?”

“No, we can have as much water as we have power to distill it. They use a low pressure still so it’s cheap to recycle it. And they use a column separator to remove the other volatiles, so it is cleaner than most water you’d get down in the USNA.”

In that case I better take a quick shower before we go,” Gunny decided. “You need to tell me where to take my laundry too.”

And we’ll set the house lock to your hand on the way out too,” April promised.

* * *

         When Gunny stepped out of the elevator it was his first visit to the seven tenths G level. April had warned him so he was cautious. He walked a little normally, then tried breaking into a run, which was hard to do, and making quick turns. There was a real lack of traction when you were lighter.

The corridor was not as fancy as at the full G level, although it wasn’t industrial. They could smell the food as soon as they stepped out of the elevator and the music was a low beat. Gunny surprised her by dancing a skipping step ahead to the music. He moved lightly for a big guy. He spun around, totally adjusted to the lower G already, and had a grin like she hadn’t seen on him.

“That some good music,” he declared. “Is that the Arrogant Aardvarks?”

“I don’t know. I don’t really follow popular music. I tend to stuff that’s, uh, quieter.”

“There’s a time for quieter, but this makes you move.”

Heather and Jeff were at a table near the buffet table, There was a room to one end with a big screen and a little dance floor. The bar was in there, and the music. The other side had another room with smaller screens, lounge furniture and tables that was perfect for gaming and cards. In between was a self serve bar where you could make your own burgers or omelets.

Heather got up and hugged April. Gunny went ahead and introduced himself to Jeff and sat down opposite. April did manage to introduce Heather formally, and just patted Jeff on the arm.

“What are they serving today?” April asked.

“This week is Mexican/South American,” Jeff answered. “The chiles rellenos, the empanadas, and the feijoada are really good. The cheese and vegetable enchiladas  have nopales and diced tomatoes in them. The cook will make fresh gorditas for you if you ask.”

“Do you folks know those people?” Gunny asked with a slight nod. All three looked over at the loud bar, and a dozen people waved and one fellow stuck his fingers in his mouth and let off a whistle that would shatter glass. They all waved back so Gunny joined in not wanting to look stuck up or unfriendly.

“I don’t know any by name, but everybody knows April,” Heather said matter of fact. April blushed but she’d learned talking to Jelly that protesting was usually counterproductive.

A large fellow in subtle Tangerine shorts and a yellow silk t-shirt came over to their table with a tray. It had a large pitcher of dark beer and four glasses.

“Thanks for your service,” he directed to April. “This is Apogee Amber. We had a brewing house open in Home last week. I highly recommend it.”

He’d have left without pushing his company on them, but April asked his name.

“I’m Steve. I service pressure suits and hard shells too. I like to hang out with the folks who use them.” He had a playful cartoon dragon tattoo around one wrist and a colorful and very Japanese cluster of chrysanthemums around the other. “Join us later if you have a mind to,” he invited gesturing at the party room.

“Maybe, thanks for the offer, and the beer,” April told him.

“The natives hold you in high esteem,” Gunny observed pouring for them.

“Beats the last time we were here,” April noted. “We had a couple creeps steal our dinner, insult Heather and assault Jeff. I like this better.”

“Oh my, that is good stuff,” Heather agreed after a long sip.

“What, uh, was the ultimate outcome to that previous visit?” Gunny wondered.

“Oh, the cook came and read the riot act to the vacuum rats, the one flipped out and acted like he was going to lay hands on the cook and Jeff stepped between them and they did a little dance that involved broken bones. Before it could get really ugly Jon the Security Chief came in the door and Air Tasered the guy in the head. After medical got him treated and trussed him up they tagged him for expulsion to the slumball.”

Gunny looked at Jeff in a new light. He’d have to find out what sort of ‘dance’ that was.

They filled up plates off the steam table and Jeff put an order in for four gorditas. There was minimal talk until they were somewhat sated. The bartender delivered them another pitcher and informed them their money was no good here when they offered a card.

“So, what has happened while I was away,” April asked before hitting the buffet again.

“We almost had our first duel,” Heather informed her.

“Wow, over what? A bad business deal? A woman? I know the assembly allowed for it but I never expected to see one happen.”

“Do you know the goofy looking guy in supply named Albert?” Heather asked. “Albert Nielson? He is real lanky and looks like he cuts his own hair?”

“Sure, I’ve dealt with him to send you guys stuff in your regular deliveries. He makes weird jokes that don’t make any sense but he seems harmless. Certainly not violent.”

“Well, when it finally dawned on him that all the old USNA laws were gone and we have created very few laws of our own he suddenly realized there was no law against public nudity. Seems he was a fan of going to nude beaches when he was an Earthie and he decided he could do the same here. He showed up for lunch one day au naturel.”

“I wasn’t there thankfully, but Wanda told me Mr. Gidley who has two young daughters tried to talk to him about it and Nielson got all preachy about how healthy and natural it was and got kind of loud. Gidley just informed him he found it a matter of his honor to preserve the custom of clothing, and he didn’t intent to have to sit staring at his hairy butt while he tried to eat, so he could show up with weapons at the north terminal corridor in the morning and they would settle it or he could retract his stand on it and he’d let the matter pass.”

“What if he refused to meet him and still refused to cover up?” Gunny asked.

“The fourth assembly of Home, they talked about avoiding all the nuisance laws Earth has, spitting on the sidewalk, what you can do in your own cubic like bake cookies or run a business.”

“Stuff like showing ID and sleeping on the grass in a park, licensing dogs They all seem like a good idea, examined one at a time.” Heather explained, “but the cops can use them to make anybody they want to arrest a criminal instead of the original purpose. Especially the ones that are subjective like creating a public disturbance. Cops seem to be capable of seeing a disturbance easily if they have some reason not to like you. Collectively it gets to where it is impossible to live without breaking some law.”

“Yes,” Jeff agreed. “The same with consumer protection laws. Who can cut hair or be a private investigator or run a restaurant. Pretty soon they are just to keep the current businesses from any competition. They have laws that forbid companies from advertising their products are superior even though they are and can prove it. Laws about how many bugs are permitted in your breakfast cereal!”

“So, they decided not to get into those sort of laws, and the whole mess of libel and slander laws that have never worked. If somebody offends you then you have the right to call them out on it. You can demand satisfaction, and if somebody will neither satisfy you or meet you then the assembly of Home will expel them.”

“You said almost,” Gunny remembered. “How was it avoided?”

“Well, at first Albert told him not to be ridiculous, that he wasn’t about to fight him. When he was told to read the assembly record he scoffed at it. Gidley just repeated that he needed to meet him in the morning. He pointed out it was his choice of weapons, or if he brought nothing they’d go at it bare handed.”

“When he went and read the assembly record he realized he would be expelled if he didn’t back down or fight him. Push come to shove he called up Gidley before the morning and tried to apologize. Gidley said he wasn’t looking for an apology. He just wanted him to put some pants on in public and acknowledge the fact since it had become a public matter. Albert made up a very short text message saying in the matter between them about public nudity he was following the custom Gidley demanded rather than meet him to duel. He posted it to the com sent to ‘all’.”

“I’ve got mixed feelings about that,” Gunny admitted. “Sooner or later some nut job is going to kill the reasonable fellow we all feel is in the right.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Jeff agreed. “It’s just a question of whether this method ruins less lives than the myriad laws North America has. Certainly all those laws have hurt many people and even resulted in unjust deaths. Don’t you agree?”

Gunny thought on it before answering. “True. If it doesn’t work you can change it later. I suppose it’s too much to expect that once you start making laws you’d be, moderate.”

“There doesn’t appear to be any historical instance where it didn’t eventually run amuck, I’m sorry to say. Better not to start. You should read the debate yourself,” Jeff suggested.

“Oh, I will. I haven’t finished the second assembly video yet. I’ll get to them all.”

“You’re here to stay then?” Heather asked.

“I feel I got used down below. I’m wanted for arrest because I got caught between political factions. I may go down for business if it’s safe, but I’m done with the USNA to live there.”

The look on Jeff and Heather’s faces changed. There was some reserve that disappeared.

“Why don’t we take some dessert over and join the folks who brought us beer?” Gunny suggested. “I think they’d very much appreciate it if their heroine visited a bit.”

April snorted like it was a joke, but Heather and Jeff said, Yes, it would be polite.

Gunny it seemed, loved to dance. April wasn’t against the idea but had little experience. Jeff kindly showed her some steps and danced with Heather and a slim vacuum rat who looked like she wanted to eat him alive. He escaped however.

They ended up the three of them, April, Heather and Jeff at a table watching Gunny dance. Their novelty had worn off and everybody who wanted to meet April had. They had drinks in front of them with no idea who had bought them. Jeff tasted his and wasn’t sure what it was but slightly fruity and very strong. They nursed them slowly after all the beer.

“You remember you strongly suggested we start a bank before you went to Earth?” Jeff asked.

“Yes, have you had time to look into it? Does it seem practical?”

“You assigned me your Rock rights. They have been allowing folks to take their payout in kind. The fab shops have been taking iron to make steel and nickel. I got in early and grabbed us the rights to the platinum.” He reached in his pocket and got a disk and passed it to her.

It was smaller than the coin Papa-san Sato gave her on Earth. She’d been carrying that since he gave it to her, but hadn’t shown it to anyone. She fished the silver dollar  out and traded it silently to Jeff, who laughed in surprise she’d have such a thing.

The coin was heavier for its size. It had a deep relief but a heavy raised edge to protect it. The one side had an image of Home with the Rock trailing, closer than reality, the arch of the Earth behind them, and the Moon showing above it all.

She flipped it over and there were no graphics on the other side. It said System Trade Bank of Home – 25 grams Pt – 99.9999 Pure – One Solar.

“It’s money,” April exclaimed delighted. “But, Solar? Not EuroMarks or Dollars? Who is going to take it? Won’t its value go up and down with the price of platinum?”

“It depends on your viewpoint,” Jeff said. “I intend to deal honestly with people. If we are a known to be of good reputation, and if Earth governments keep treating people as disposable, well, it is possible people would regard the value of a dollar or EuroMark as going up or down against a Solar.”

April looked uncertain.

“Do you take Argentine money if you have a choice?” Jeff asked her.

“No way, and I’m not thrilled to take Brazilian or Macedonian either.”

“See? Money does have a reputation. You trade your own stocks don’t you?”

“I do, in a very limited way,” April admitted.

“You already have formed opinions about the markets then. May I suggest you take some economics courses? I’m not saying the things you learn will be right or wrong, but it matters what other people think makes the economy work.”

“After you have some ideas about economic theory then we can talk about how the bank will work. They haven’t separated enough platinum yet to matter, so this is just one of a few prototypes, but the bank exists not just on paper, but in reality enough it would be hard for people to try to stop us from having it now. We’re grandfathered in as they say.”

“So I’m part owner of a sort of a ghost bank that doesn’t have much yet in assets, but it will as they keep mining the Rock?”

“Exactly. And I’m already doing various small transactions so there is a record of the bank existing and forming contracts from several days ago. If I let out contracts to fabbers I use it.”

“Nice. Can I get a loan to buy some cubic?”

“The bank can loan you one Solar,” Jeff offered gravely. “Can you offer collateral?”

“How about an antique silver dollar?”

“A done deal. I’ll have your papers tomorrow. Perhaps you’d like to put some funds on account with us?” he asked very formally.

“Maybe. Let me talk to Eddie first and we’ll see,” April said remembering another worry. “I’m tired and I drank too much, she announced. “I need to go home, and it’s a long way back.”

“You stayed at our place before,” Heather reminded her. I’m ready to go home too. Drop a message at your family com and come stay. It’s pretty close.”

“Okay, I’m going to tell Gunny.” She waved him over.

“I’m not going home tonight. Can you find your way back yourself?”

“Sure, I know the way. But I might not make it back until tomorrow myself,” He went back to his dance before she could register surprise.

“Nice to see your man fitting in so well,” Heather said with a smirk.

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