Sunday, 11 November 2012

Part three: sex and drugs and, er, cucumbers


Kel had been a natural.
They were called companions not just because the PR AI wanted to use a way of softening the common parlance of space whore, but because they weren't just providing sexual services to the human workforce. Working in space, in the early days of the commercial colonisation meant, long and often boring periods away from Earth. People became lonely, depressed and therefore less productive. Companions became someone to just talk to; Kel made the majority of his money that way. Part of this was that he was somewhat of a clumsy lover, especially in lower gravity and despite Delilah's efforts to train him, but also because that laid back personality and gentle demeanour allowed people to open up with him. Space was filled with very driven and intense people, which would lead to frictions, and so companions had an important role to play. 
Frictions like Chen planning to blow up the new factory on Europa's surface.
Chen had been one of the first scientists landed on to Europa and with a small team had spent years attempting to persuade the large icy moon to give up its secrets. He put up with the conglom science team as a necessary evil for his studies. It was just bad luck that the two teams made their biggest breakthroughs at the same time. The science community back on Earth read Chen's paper charting his success in finding two alien microbes with keen attention. These single cell organisms were of a similar genetic design to some found at the very depths of Earth's oceans, but with a few interesting differences. However, those differences were not interesting enough to rival the conglom science team, who had plans approved for a massive facility that would end the world's struggle for clean water resources and fuel the rapidly expanding space mining programme. 
Just a week later Chen was told to pack up and head home - the construction drones were moving in. However, Chen wasn't the sort of person that was going to let his life's work be steamrollered over. His small science team were sent home, but Chen remained. Ostensibly to co-ordinate the break up of the science facility under the ice layer, the scientist could often be found pacing around the loop habitat, brooding. Kel had seen the change in the man.
The two of them had not interacted on any social or business level, but Chen had been a big presence on the habitat, supervising the experiments run at the one third g of the habitat, or moving equipment up and down the space elevator to the experiments run on the surface. The change in Chen from a tight bundle of intense energy, to a low level of brooding anger hadn't been noticed by the rest of the now skeleton crew, but it had by Kel. 
With the majority of its human occupants returned to Earth, there was a lot of spare capacity on the loop habitat. A few sections had been sealed off with the oxygen pumped out to save on running costs, but that still left a lot of station to play with.
Kel finally tracked Chen down to a small section on the opposite side of the loop to the canteen and other areas of crew interaction. The scientist had set up a sophisticated computer network, presumably scavenged from the decommissioned science station. As Kel wandered through it as he looked for Chen he assumed that the computer models cycling on the projections were a continuation of the scientist's studies. Understandable, just a shame that the brilliant scientist had been relegated to a dingy area of the loop next to the sewage purification plant. 
Then Chen had put a gun to his head.
"What do you want?" Chen had said from where he stood behind Kel. 
"I was looking for you" this wasn't the first time Kel had had a gun pulled on him. Back on Earth his park had been a popular haunt for wannabe gangsters, until Delilah moved in that was. He felt surprisingly calm, despite the cool nano-carbonite of Chen's pulse pistol pushed into the base of his skull. 
"Why?" Chen growled.
"Not seen you around for a while, I was curious, that's all"
"Go be curious somewhere else" Chen moved quickly, grabbed Kel by the collar of his overalls and hauled him roughly back to, and out of, the hatch to the main corridor. Kel landed outside on the rough walkway face first. Even in the lower g it stung. He rolled onto his back to look up at Chen who still had the gun pointed at him. 
"This isn't you Chen" Kel said, rubbing his cheek. 
"How the fuck would you know what is or isn't me" the hatch was slammed shut. 
Kel lay there for a little while, running over what just happened in his mind. Why pull a gun on someone unless you had something to hide?  Kel considered the computer tech that Chen had assembled in the dingy room, that was the key to finding out what was going on here. And Kel had a horrible sinking feeling that it was something bad. 

Delilah had been livid. She paced up and down the small medical facility as the med-bot dressed Kel's swollen cheek. 
"No one lays a hand on my people" she had said, punching a fist into her other hand "That guy is gonna get fucked up" she swung to look at Kel "Just as soon as you tell me who it was"
"I told you, I fell"
"At least show me enough respect to try and come up with an original lie" she stepped towards him, the med-bot giving a small chirp to indicate that she had stepped within its operating area. 
"It isn't a complete lie" Kel shrugged.
"Who. Was. It?" Delilah had stepped away to avoid upsetting the med-bot further, but she might have well had her face an inch away from his, such was the intensity of her language when she was this angry. 
"Chen, but there's something...."
"That fucking boffin?! Shit, I didn't think that twat had a sexual need in his body. I've been trying to crack him for years. So he swings that way does he? And likes it a bit rough? Well he better had paid good money for that Kel" her sentences were spoken quickly, Kel struggled to find a point at which to interrupt.
"It's not like that" he eventually managed to get in.
"Like what? He not pay? I'll rip his balls off if he cut and run" the med-bot gave another chirp, Delilah had subconsciously taken another step towards Kel. 
"No, he's up to something"
"Something pervy?" another chirp as Delilah leant in.
"No, something bad, I think"
"The quiet ones are always into the darkest shit"
"Not sex bad, just bad, bad. I need to get a look at his computers. Can you distract him?"
"I could distract the fucking Dalai Lama. But what the fuck do you know about computers?"
"I don't, but I know a man who does"

Lloyd could usually be found in the loop's labs. The laboratory complex took up about a third of the loop, once filled with hundreds of conglom scientists. Now it was just Lloyd. He had initially been employed as a highly talented systems analyst, used by the scientists to refine and improve their computer modelling. But, he had been discharged by the LH conglom for diverting almost quarter of a billion new dollars into, what he proudly referred to as, 'space's first kick ass drugs lab'.
With the conglom unwilling to stump up the cash for the return journey - calculating it to make more sense to leave Lloyd out there where he can't embarrass anyone Earth-side with the details of his fraud - Lloyd had remained on the loop habitat. Cut off from any new funding, Lloyd had commandeered (read: broken in to) the lab complex, in particular the two bio-domes. Using some of the skills he'd developed in refining his various illicit pharmaceuticals, he was able to grow a respectably sized vegetable patch. This fed into the informal economy that had developed in the loop habitat as the congloms had pulled out of human centred operations. 
This was also why Kel had found Lloyd contemplating a midsized cucumber when he finally found the lanky computer technician. 
"Hey Lloyd" Kel had said.
"Does this smell funny to you?" the cucumber suddenly appeared under Kel's nose.
"Er, it smells ok" Kel said tentatively, not knowing if that was the answer Lloyd wanted to hear.
"Think I may have got the UV sulphate mix wrong"
"That bad?"
"Depends if you like your lower intestine or not"
"I'll file this under 'maybe' for now" the cucumber was put to one side "So what can I do for you? I've got a fresh batch of stim-gel about to come out the oven" Lloyd raised an enquiring eyebrow.
"No thanks, I was just wondering if...."
"How about some potatoes?"
"No, I..."
"I get it. I've got you fancying a cucumber now. Well I need to make a few adjustments. But if you want to hit the 'maybe' pile I'll let you have two for the price of one"
"Lloyd, listen to me" Kel banged the table, the cucumber fell off the table.
"Watch the merchandise, dude" but then Lloyd saw the look in Kel's eyes "What?"
"I need a favour"
"What sort of favour?"
"Computers. I need you to look at some"
"Why didn't you say? Of course. You want me to reset your water ration?"
"No, what? How'd you know I'd lost water" Kel frowned.
"You smell worse than my cucumbers"
"I'm just having a stressful day. Plus the computers I need you to look at are sort of next to the sewage processor"
"Explains the smell. This Chen?" asked Lloyd.
"Yeah. Wait, how'd you know it's Chen?"
"Who'd you think set up his new system?"
"Of course" Kel slapped his forehead, Chen couldn't have got that kit running on his own. "So what is it he's up to?"
"Dunno" Lloyd shrugged.
"Come on Lloyd, this is important, I think he's gonna do something bad"
"Like I said, I don't know. I just took the dude's money and set up the system. He wanted a couple of scripts too, but he was going to set the actual computer modelling up himself"
"What were the scripts?" 
"Basic infiltration stuff. I get the feeling he wants to get something on that resupply ship that's coming next week, but maybe with that something not showing in the inventory. They're the scripts I use to send some of my, er, produce to the good people back home"
“But what might he want to send back?" Kel mused.
“Search me. Guess it's connected to the fancy computer model he's running. Maybe some research breakthrough?"
"Aren't you curious?"
Kell rubbed his eyes.
"Well, will you come and help me be curious?"
"On what?" Kel crossed his arms.
"On whether you take a bite of this cucumber for me, in the name of science"

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