I seriously needed a day off. My little stunt of crawling around on the dome like a bug cost me some downtime. The next day, I just lounged around a very fancy hotel room with my foot buried under a bag of ice and propped up on a cushy ottoman. My elbow is fine. When the emergency crews picked me up on the dome later, one of the medics took a look at it. This guy was a magician. He took my arm and moved it in a couple ways, then bent my elbow so my hand went up to my shoulder, and gave my wrist a quick twist. I felt it pop, and then abracadabra—no more pain! That guy should get a medal too.
Speaking of which, that’s why I’ve got an expensive room today. For my acts of stupidity and bravery, the Mayor of Hellas Basin has decided to give me the Lovell award, named after the Apollo thirteen mission commander. I’m plotting how I might be able to skip the public ceremony scheduled sometime next week.
I spent that day sitting on my ass, but I did keep busy. There was a lot more detective work to do now. Somebody blew up that dome. Broderick and his team have already been busy and on the scene. The explosion was caused by a rocket propelled explosive launched from one of the many parks. Video surveillance shows that the device was placed earlier by a man matching Baxter’s description. Later it was triggered remotely to explode against the dome wall. Security all across Mars has been ratcheted up, because Baxter declared war on the Martian government by attacking the capital.
Broderick said the explosive came from the mines. Specifically Mesopotamia. Not the ancient home of Sumerians. This Mesopotamia is a mineral rich region directly east of Hellas Planitia. The Martians have dug deep into the ground there to provide resources for their ongoing city construction. There still is no evidence that Baxter has any accomplices. He appears to be a lone wolf. And that means that he had to have recently been there or is still hanging around. I decided to go take a look. But not as Martin Coswell. I became my old undercover character, Ben Chase, for a few days and got a job in the mines.
So after a day to recoup and rest my swollen ankle, yesterday I took a train over to Mesopotamia. There aren’t any domes there, just a bunch of holes in the ground, surrounded by a few maintenance buildings and garages for ground vehicles. There is a large column of smoke coming out of the ground from one of the holes. When I inquired, I was told that this is the ore refinery where the ore is smelted down.
I found my way to the human resources office inside a grubby underground building. There I met a grim faced man who looked at me with disapproval. The man was dressed in dirty coveralls, the dirt having the distinctive red tinge of the Martian topsoil.
“I’m sorry Mr. Chase, we just can’t hire you if you don’t have an ID.”
“And there’s no other…arrangement…that we could come to on that? I said in low voice, out of earshot of passersby. The desk of the man in the dusty clothing was nudged up against a common hallway, creating a makeshift checkin counter. The people walking by had tired faces, and similar dusty accoutrement.
“Possibly…” The man grinned splitting his lips back over grimy teeth. A gold eyetooth gleamed, out of place in the midst of the unkempt man’s mouth. “If you were to make a….let’s say a donation.”
I nodded. “Of course. I’d be happy to.” I reached into my pocket, but the man raised a cautionary hand and stopped me.
“Not here, friend. Too many eyes.” He tipped his head toward the side and I looked up where he’d indicated. A small back box was screwed to the wall, complete with winking red light and lens sticking out of it.
“I understand.” I considered the man and decided that he was appropriately corrupt. Thankfully, that was to my advantage.
“Here’s the form to fill out for employment.” Grimy-man pushed a tablet at me, and I set to work filling it out with as much false information as I could conjure up. My new name is Ben Chase: a name I often used as an alias back in my PI days on Earth. It’s as comfortable to me as an old shoe, and I slipped it on just as easily, complete with all of the old history that I’ve invented for him over the years of use.
I finished the application and pushed the tablet back across the gritty surface of the desk. The man smiled back at me disturbingly, revealing even more of his disgusting teeth. He took the tablet without looking at it. “Everything seems to be in order here, sir.” He said. “If you’ll just follow me back to the supply room, we can get you your gear so you’ll be ready for the morning crew.”
We squeezed through the small gap between the desk and the wall, and walked back into a dimly lit room covered with hardhats, canvas packs, and harnesses. The unpleasant man stuck out a calloused hand, palm up in the universal gesture of pay-the-greedy-man-now. I placed a stack of plastic Martian bills on his hand. The man examined them and then wiggled the tips of his fingers that stuck out longer than the bills. I wasn’t playing that game.
“It’s all I’ve got,” I explained.
The man frowned. “I’m trying hard to do you a favor here, bud. But this isn’t quite enough to make me bend the rules for ya.”
“I’m out of work, remember?”
“Aye. That you are. Tell you what. Promise you’ll give me half your first week’s pay and we’ll call it even.”
I wasn’t going to be there more than a week anyway, and I wasn’t planning on giving this worm any more money at that time. So there was no reason at all to haggle over something that was never going to happen.
“Yeah, sure. If that’s what I gotta do to get a job.”
“Well you got one now, mister. Just hope you’re cut out for some hard work, cause that’s all we got around here. This ain’t no white collar kind o’ job here, that’s for sure.” He cackled and his laugh was just as unpleasant as the look of his ugly yellow-orange teeth.
I left this irritating man, and went looking for a place to stay for the week. The only room that I could find available was tiny, grubby, and run down. Not at all like the palace that I stayed in yesterday. The lights flicker and dim occasionally and must share a circuit with too many others. The air is stuffy, but doesn’t seem in danger of suffocating me. For that I can at least be thankful. I keep my canary near me by the bed, though, just in case. The canary is a Martian device that monitors O2 and CO2 levels. It will set off a godawful alarm if it finds anything out of tolerance. The expensive models scan for toxic compounds. I opted for that one. When something is trying to kill me, even if it’s the air I’m breathing, I want to know about it. Saving a few dollars won’t do me any good if I’m dead. The canary is staying silent and the little yellow box sits on the end table blinking a green light that’s supposed to give me a sense of calm. I’m anything but, tonight. Anyway, I’m beat, and I’ve got a long day of hard work ahead of me tomorrow.