Saturday, 30 November 2013

Old Chapter

Below the cut, you’ll find the entire text of Chapter Three from the previous draft. It’s thirteen pages, and it’s crazy bloated with all sorts of unnecessary shit. Too much exposition. Too much unneeded detail. Too much characterization that’s inconsistent with the rest of the novel. There’s some stuff here that I like—some jokes and details, and I’m fond of a lot of Sydney’s introspection on the first couple of pages—and some of it might end up showing up later in the current draft.

The point is that this is a great example of why I didn’t like what I was doing with the previous draft. Even from a pacing perspective…This is thirteen pages of tirelessly delivered exposition, plopped down thirty pages into a manuscript that goes equally frakking nowhere. And that’s another great indicator that this draft had gone wrong. This is Chapter Three. As in, following two chapters and a prologue. And my detective is just now getting to the city where the murder took place.

So…Take it how you will. As always with these posted bits of manuscript, it should be remembered that this is in an unedited state and should not be considered a final product. I’ll be back with the new Chapter One—which covers roughly the same ground—tomorrow.

 

-Sean

Chapter Three

When you really broke it down and started looking at it, space was mostly all about waiting for things. Communications lag. Launch windows. Transit. Rest and repositioning orbits. Living and working two-hundred and thirty-eight thousand, nine-hundred miles from the nearest point where you could stand out in the sun and take a deep breath without a pressure suit was not a lifestyle that availed itself well to the impatient.

Sydney Bessette was not an impatient woman by nature, but there were days. Exceptions. And, as she waited in the emergency overflow workshop that was tucked into the far end of Primary Rover Maintenance's crescent shaped space allocation, she longed to fidget and roam. There was too much tension in her. She felt like every bone in her long frame had been replaced with springs, and her guts with snakes. And she regretted bringing Bowman with her.

Sydney had taken over the command of the UN Security forces that policed the Lunar surface five years prior—moving up from an administrative position in Geneva when the opportunity came—and James Bowman had been her assistant for the last three. He stood at attention three feet rear and to the right of her, his tablet tucked neatly under one arm and his eyes straight ahead. He had none of the tension in him. He didn't even recognize that there was a potential crisis looming, because he hadn't been told. He had just seen Sydney leaving Security Central and had followed her out of habit.

And, out of habit, she hadn't told him to stay behind.

"Bowman," she said; her mouth was full of a Quebecois accent she had never bothered to shake. "Please consider yourself dismissed."

"Ma'am?"

She turned to look at him. He was taller than she was, by several inches, and he had large, soft brown eyes and wore his hair shaggy. Looking him in the face when he was confused always left Sydney thinking of a large, not very bright dog. "You're dismissed," she said again. "I would like to handle our guest on my own."

"Ma'am." At least the question had gone out of it this time.

"And we'll consider this meeting confidential until further notice."

"Ma'am," he repeated, nodding curtly.

He turned and went off, taking the long, gliding strides that all of the Lunar residents seemed to grow into eventually. Sydney had been told once that anyone who didn't get the hang of moving in one-third gravity after a couple of weeks wasn't ever going to make it on Luna, and she had taken it to heart. There had been more than a few transfer candidates who she had turned down or sent home over the years because they couldn't get past their spatial problems. Inefficiency was unacceptable when every breath you took cost the United Nations a handful of Euros.

When Bowman was gone, Sydney sagged, letting her posture collapse as she blew a long breath out of her lungs. She began to pace after that; running her fingers along the tool-boards and counters at each work station she came to. Her fingertips accumulated deep pads of fine, static-clingy grey dust as she did, and on every rotation of her corner of the bay, she stopped to clean them with a wet-wipe from of a great, industrial sized bin of them. The air cyclers in the maintenance bay kicked on every thirty seconds, she noticed eventually, and the ballasts were off in two of the nearest fluorescent light arrays. An unattended tool that had been hung up on a rack too close to one of the air vents clattered dimly at the far end of the silent bay every time the cyclers came on.

Someone has been murdered on my station, she thought, suddenly.

She clamped that down. Right down. She wasn't authorized to say that for sure yet. Protocols required the presence and opinion of a UN appointed specialist before she could make that claim. And for that she needed to wait.

The pacing stopped. She wished that she hadn't sent Bowman away so there would be someone for her to pointedly not do it in front of. Not quite thirty hours since she had sent the initial report back to Geneva and had been told to expect a specialist as soon as possible. Thirty hours. How could she not handle that? Less than a hundred years ago, it had taken months of planning and three days of transit to get a man to the moon.

An airlock alarm went off. Three short wails accompanied by the same number of red flashes on the light above the corresponding bay. Sydney started. Swearing silently, she began to compose herself; tugging and straightening at the blue and grey cover-all that was assigned to her people, setting and binding ashy-blonde hair in a tight pony-tail. She stood at the center of the bay and put herself at attention and waited. It was easier this time.

The maintenance rover trundled through the airlock a few minutes later, dripping dust-choked water from six wheels and a chunky, Tonka-Truck frame down into the drainage grates for filtering and reconstitution. When the hatch popped, two of the men she had sent out to pick up the specialist emerged first; acknowledging her and moving to stand behind her as Bowman had. The third came a moment later, and then a final, unknown man. He was...unimpressive.

The specialist was shorter than Sydney by a good five inches, though that would change as he spent more time in low-grav and his spine started to decompress. He had dark, observant eyes and dark hair that receded dramatically from a face that was all sharp points centered around a beaklike nose that looked to have been broken a few times. What was left of a good black suit hung rumpled and shroud-like off of a body that seemed to be made of nothing but muscle and bone. He reached back into the rover behind him and produced a good-sized pack, seeming satisfied with himself when he slid its single strap over his head and shoulder and found that it still fit.

Sydney approached as he climbed down off of the rover, awkward in the gravity. "Commander Sydney Bessette," she said, extending a hand. "Chief of UN Security Forces here at Dawes City. Welcome."

The man looked up at her for a moment, calculating, and then returned the handshake. He had a good grip. "Emory Dow," he said. American, with a little rasp and drawl. From Somewhere in the Southwest, probably. "Specialist Contractor."

"We're glad you're here, Mister Dow."

He smirked. "Are you? Christ. I'm not. I try not to be in the dead men business anymore if I can't help it."

Sydney tried to smile. It was almost funny. "That's fair. Well, we will be glad for any help that you can provide us, regardless."

"And I'll be happy to try and help, regardless." Dow reached back into one of his bag's pockets so that he could shake a crumpled, half-empty pack of cigarettes at her. "I've needed one all day. Is there an area or something? Some kind of Shame Room?"

That was not a question Sydney had ever expected to have to answer. She paused to consider it for what felt like a heart-beat too long. "We're strictly non-smoking at Dawes. No open flames at all. This is a highly oxygen-rich environment."

Dow sighed, looking mournfully at his cigarettes. "I was told that I would be able to smoke. Can I at least get some of those horrible electronic ones, then?"

She wasn't prepared for that either. Sydney tried to remember a single instance of seeing anyone smoking anything in the last five years. She supposed it was possible that everyone just did it in their quarters, but she didn't know. Eventually she settled on saying, "We'll find out for you."

That seemed to satisfy Dow at least. He pocketed the pack, nodding, and when he looked back at her he seemed to have steeled himself for something. "Should we get started, then?"

It came back to her, worming its way into her mind around the corners of his strangeness. Why Dow was here. A murder. Maybe. In a moment, Sydney was deeply grateful for the fact that he was here and ready to work. That he wasn't going to want a meal or a night's rest first. She was plenty patient, but thirty hours was enough.

She smiled. "Please. We've processed the scene and performed an autopsy already. Which would you like to attend to first?"

Dow shrugged. "Your choice. However you'd like to proceed."

That made her feel pretty good, too. He didn't seem intent on trampling all over any investigation that she might mount. "Autopsy is closer, at the station's medical center, but let's start with the dead man's quarters and circle back. I'll have a my detective meet us there."

* * *

Bessette stuck to what she called "the tunnels." A distinction that was almost completely lost on Dow. To him, Dawes seemed to be all tunnels—endless miles of broad, pre-fabricated corridors that had been buried to protect the colony's inhabitants from stray radiation and impacts. Not far from the rover bay, she had led him down a short ladder into a sub-level of tighter, equipment choked passages.

"These are maintenance tubes, really," she said, motioning to the thick tangles of conduit and piping that ran along the walls. "With all of the foot traffic, space is at a premium in the main corridors and we try to keep as much of the engineering and environmental machinery out of sight as possible. A lot of people can only take living here if they don't have to confront just how fragile the station's systems are. They can't handle seeing where their air comes from."

"I could come to sympathize with that," Dow said.

Emory Dow was an intensely unhappy man. He had been dragged away from home in the early hours of the morning with a scant briefing, thrown into a dead, featureless void on a rickety private shuttle, been knocked out for a seven unaccountable hours by a combination of extreme g-forces and a chemical cocktail that had come to him courtesy of the United States Navy, and spent the next twelve trapped in a sequence of increasingly small, windowless surface rovers that bumped and jostled him half-way across the surface of the moon. He felt hung over, stumbled badly in the low gravity every time he took a step, and hadn't seen the sun or the outside world since the first shuttle had broken orbit. If it weren't for the poor gravity and the apparent size of the facility that Bessette was leading him though, he wouldn't have had any reason to believe that he was even on Luna.

He wanted to sleep. He wanted to call his wife. He wanted a cigarette. But, more than any of those other things, he didn't want to think about running out of air.

Goddamned space. Goddamned moon. Goddamned UN.

But Commander Bessette had seemed anxious to get going when he had come out of the rover. She had been nervous that he was going to try and walk all over her, instituting his own time tables and rules. But he wasn't interested in pissing anyone off, and working would put his mind off of all of the other things that he wanted instead. So they would work.

Bessette slowed her pace down admirably so that he could keep up with her. She took short, hopping steps, pausing for a half of a heartbeat at the end of each so that his waddling lurch wouldn't leave him behind. Tomorrow, he told himself, I'll work on learning to walk properly. For today, I hunch and stumble. That's my line in the sand.

"What's the local time?" he asked. His work phone—an off-the-books gift from Seb—was a military grade smart model and it would update itself accordingly with the nearest GPS satellite, but it hadn't wanted to integrate properly with the lunar systems and he hadn't had the time to fuck around with it yet. "I need to update my phone."

"Three-thirteen PM. We're a fully integrated UN facility, so we're synced to Geneva." Bessette was actually able to look at him when she spoke, which seemed like one hell of a trick. Every time Dow took his eyes off of his feet, his shoes stuck on the rubberized surface of the corridor floor and he started to stumble again. "We're on a closed network, though, so you won't actually be able to integrate. We'll get you a phone that's network capable in the morning." She smiled. "And some better shoes."

"There's nothing wrong with these shoes. Your floors are ridiculous." It would take him all of ten minutes for his phone's suite of intelligence software to break into the Dawes City UN network when he had the time to put his mind to it, but he didn't mention that and he fully intended to take their offered phone and use it as little as possible. It was part of that thing about not wanting to piss anyone off yet. She laughed at his joke, though, and they had a moment of silence.

Dow didn't like that much. He wanted time to feel out Bessette. Preferably without giving her much on himself. He wasn't entirely sure what footing he was on yet, or who he could trust. Kinneman had raised all sorts of red flags, and had all but outright said that there would be a cover-up ready to go if this turned out to actually be a murder.

And so, because he didn't know who would or would not be Kinneman's man at Dawes yet, Dow was prepared to shut everyone out at a moment's notice. Until then, he needed to keep Bessette talking and on his side rather than thinking too hard about him.

They had been sticking to a wide, open corridor that felt more like a boulevard so far, but now Bessette led him down a ladder to a sub-level that seemed to consist of a single, cramped corridor that seemed to run on for a long way in either direction. It was barely wide enough for both of them to walk next to one another, and aside from thick clusters of electrical conduit bracketed to the walls, it was empty and featureless.

"A service tunnel," she said. "It's not too different in size to most of our corridors, so this is a good place for you to learn how to move around. This one also bypasses admin and the central dome, too, so we can move more quickly." She started off ahead of him, picking up the pace a little and keeping one hand raised at level with the top of her head in case she bounced too close to the low ceiling.

"You're from Quebec?" he asked, trying half-heartedly to mimic her movement. "Montreal?"

"You have a good ear, Mister Dow. I was born and raised there. Before joining the United Nations Police Services, I served ten years as a Vice officer in the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal."

"So you have proper police training."

"Most of my staff does. We're titled as a Security Force here, but officially we're a branch of the United Nations Police Services. Security Central is considered a precinct house, though it's the only one on the surface."

UNPol. Once upon a time, it may have been something else with a different name, but for as long as Dow could remember the organization had been a for-hire police force that could step in at the request of governments that were suffering wide-spread corruption in their own local police services. Entire departments could be dropped in place whole-sale and take over the policing of a nation in adherence to that nation's laws during a political restructuring. It was remarkable. Most of those services wouldn't apply on the lunar surface, of course, but he could also see where a more traditional police service would be friendlier in the eyes of a population made from civilian scientists.

"I figured that's what you guys were," he said. "Recognized the colors on your onesies."

Bessette turned her head just far enough to look at Dow out of the corner of her eye. Just far enough for him to see her smirk. "And were you one of us once, Specialist Dow?"

"Dow is fine."

"All right."

"And yeah, I did a few years. The South African restructuring, and then Uruguay. With about six months in between as an instructor in Geneva."

Bessette stopped and looked Dow in the eye, like she was trying to figure out if he was fucking with her. "Christ."

"Yeah."

"And before?"

"I grew up in Los Angeles. Did a dime with the LAPD. Worked my way up to the Homicide desk for a couple of years before UNPol headhunted me."

She made a face like she was trying to be the appropriate level of impressed. "What made you leave it?"

Dow blanched. He didn't want to talk about LA. He dodged, clumsily. "What made you leave the Police?"

Bessette seemed willing to take that. "UNPol wanted me, and they would let me advance. I got to travel a lot before coming here. Which was nice."

"Right." He nodded like those had been his reasons too, before going on the offensive to keep the subject changing. "Run me through the file on this thing."

"Weren't you briefed?"

Dow shrugged. He was becoming increasingly aware that they still weren't moving, and he didn't like the tightness of the corridor very much. "I was briefed by a child nearly a half a million miles away, who had nothing but the basic files on Warren Cole, no exposure to the scene, and seemed to think that the best thing he could do was play keep-away with me on anything more that he might have had. I was unimpressed, and would like the opinions of the person who is in charge of this situation. That's you, isn't it?"

Sydney paused. She hadn't really considered that she might be the one in charge of this. It had been the way that she had been handling it to this point—her office, despite its establishment—didn't have anything like what she would call a detective, but she had not considered that Dow might want a partner or to take a secondary role.

She thought about waiting and how it had felt just a few minutes ago. And she thought about sitting at her desk at Security Central waiting for status reports. And then she turned, started down the corridor again, and said:

"The victim's name was Warren Cole. Thirty-four years old. American citizen. Divorced. For the three years that he was on Luna, Cole was employed by Dennison-Holt. Do you know what that is?

Dow smiled ruefully, starting off after Bessette at a steady lurch. "Assume that I don't know anything about the case."

"Dennison-Holt Lunar Preservation Commission. It's a non-profit historical preservation group. They have a UN contract to handle surface and mineral studies here on the lunar surface. Cole had a Geology PhD, and he worked as a site surveyor, determining the historical or natural significance of parcels that different corporations or research groups are petitioning for the use of.

"Cole's been divorced since before he came up the Well. Major gambling debts. His wife took their son and left to avoid the fallout. They don't know about his death yet, obviously. We're keeping that between you, me, my people, and key UN personnel for the time being. Naturally, most of the population knows about it too, but the list of people who know that we suspect foul play is measured by the handful for the moment."

"That's probably best." Dow wasn't too sure that it was, actually. At least not in the long term. Handfuls tended to expand rapidly, and the person doing the grasping often tended to think that they could always fit just one more in between their fingers before everything slipped away from them. It would be fine to keep things mum until they could make an official ruling on whether or not Cole's death was a homicide, but, after that, the silence would stop masking a suspicion and start hiding a secret.

"How was he liked here? At work?"

"Well enough." She sounded almost unsure. "We have a fairly private community here. They're not antisocial, but they are selected for their ability to cope with confined spaces and isolation. A lot of people just tend to stay in their quarters when they're not at work or in the field. Cole was one of those."

"No activities?"

"He attended a weekly AA meeting. Not just because we don't have a group specifically for gamblers, either. His records indicate that he started drinking heavily during the divorce." They approached a steep set of steps that led to a hatch in the ceiling and Sydney stopped, turning back to Dow again. "Nothing remarkable at work, either. No complaints on record, though his supervisor mentioned that Cole had a somewhat competitive relationship with some of his colleagues. That's almost to be expected with the scientists, though. It comes from all of those years of fighting for grant money. There are a lot of rivalries on this station."

Bessette put a hand on the railing of the steps. "This is us."

Dow looked along the corridor in either direction. It still seemed to stretch on forever to both sides. "How far have we come?"

"More than a kilometer. It goes quickly, doesn't it? How's your head taking the gravity?"

He thought back unhappily to the moments after breaking Earth orbit on the shuttle, when the wonderment of being weightless flying had been spoiled by his inner ear rioting and forcing him to throw up in his helmet. "Better now that there is some. I'm not made for space, I don't think."

She smiled. It was a nice, honest one. "Not everyone is."

No comments:

Post a Comment