Turns out, when you get concerned about something, you ought to listen to yourself. I should know this by now, but I was on an alien world, not feeling too great, with pure oxygen fed through a nose tube, and hundreds of meters underground. I let my environment, and good old Kevin Shubert distract me.
After I met Kevin we went out to the fields and met some of his crew. I asked some pointed questions, but didn’t get any weirdness from anyone. Everyone had been accounted for at the estimated time of the murder. Broderick’s forensic team, which I suspected was a team of one veterinarian or something, had determined the approximate time of death. They all had alibis for that time period. I’d have Broderick check up on those later, I figured. But none of those guys gave me the cop vibe.
Next we went down some of the side tunnels. There were several places where lava had burned out the rock to the sides of the tunnel and then had drained out leaving little chambers. These weren’t big enough to grow crops in, but the space worked fine for animals. Pigs, chickens, and tiny cows. Yes, tiny cows. Genetically engineered to high efficiency. Mutant cows, that didn’t even moo right. It all felt a little strange.
The animal chambers were one big poop factory, and they smelled that way too. Monorail cars were parked here off the main track, and filled to the brim with the stuff. I thought it was a pretty shitty job, the kind that robots were made for. I was right. Shoveling crap was all done by robots.
We started talking with the guys that work the animal pens. Most of them were mechanic and computer types. They performed the maintenance on the machinery and made sure things kept running smoothly. Automated feeding, watering, cleaning, and slaughtering. Which led me to a question, so I asked it.
I asked the group why they thought the killer hadn’t run the body through the slaughter house.
This resulted in a rather uncomfortable pause in the conversation.
A greasy handed mechanic explained to me how disgusting that idea was, because that would mean that many at some point would eat pieces of that body in one form or another. That no Martian would ever do anything like that. Then several of the computer guys chimed in and explained how that would be impossible, because of the constant computerized testing and monitoring of the food processing equipment. I was more inclined to trust in the computers than the goodwill of Martians. And turns out I was right.
On the way back to the main Harvard Tube, I was following Kevin on foot when suddenly I was clobbered on the head. I sank to my knees, the world got black at the edges and shrunk.
When I woke up, I was laying in Martian dirt. Facedown in the dust, with my hands numb and tied behind my back. It was dark, and I couldn’t tell if I was blind or if there just wasn’t any light available. My head throbbed and felt a little wet where I’d been hit. I rolled on my side, and took inventory. Pain in my head. I was still wearing clothes, and still had my sniffer giving me oxygen. My shoulder holster felt light, and I knew it was empty. This had been no accident.
I rolled to a sitting position and felt around the ground with my feet, hoping that maybe something had fallen out of my or someone else pockets at some point. I turned up nothing, but I did find a rock wall. I pushed against it to get to my feet, then felt along the wall with my shoulder which seemed to go in a rough circle until I came to a flat metal door. The door didn’t have a handle and it wouldn’t push open, it just rattled slightly in whatever frame it was in. I continued around again until I returned to the door. I was in a roundish cave room, with one door and a dirt floor.
I spent the next few hours trying to get my hands free. It felt like some kind of super strong zip tie. I could feel the plastic cutting into my wrists and creaking when I pulled on it. But everything that I tried wouldn’t get my hands loose, and had no tools at all. Except, my belt. I didn’t even know if I could figure out how to get it off, let alone make it useful. But it was something to do in the dark that didn’t have to do with thinking about dying.
I’m getting tired again. I don’t really remember how long it was I was in there, and some of the sequence of the events are a little fuzzy. I’m going to recover some more, then tell you the rest tomorrow.