Kid With A Pen
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Kid With A Pen

Principia — De Motu Corporum VII

The Governor is Dead

This is the 7th part of the webnovel “Principia — De Motu Corporum.” Click here to go to the previous chapter, or here to go to the beginning.

“The spaces which a body describes by any finite force urging it, whether that force is determined and immutable, or is continually augmented or continually diminished, are in the very beginning of the motion one to the other in the duplicate ratio of the times.”

– Sir Issac Newton, “Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica”

It took Peregrine about an hour to arrive at Grimaldi Station from the remains of Fasal under the power of her Orbital Maneuvering System. These engines, among the latest in a long line of auxiliary propulsion systems dating back to the dawn of manned spaceflight, were used to reorient and propel spacecraft when it would be inappropriate to use the main engines. Unlike its distant ancestors, Peregrine’s OMS didn’t use hideously toxic and corrosive hypergolic fuels, but was instead propelled by superheating purified water with high-energy microwaves. Peregrine was equipped with 931 of these little thrusters, each the size of a steel drum and arranged in clusters of 133 to allow translation along all three spatial axes, with an additional cluster at the rear to expedite forward acceleration, and as they had no electrodes or moving parts, and used an easily stored propellant, microwave electrothermal thrusters made for ideal reaction control units for large spacecraft.

From the outside, Grimaldi Station resembled a spider dropping down from the Moon on a filament of its silk — its legs splayed out in all directions. However, this description betrays a geocentric view, as in actuality Grimaldi Station was standing atop a 61,350-kilometer-tall tower, held in place by its position at EML-1, which allowed the station to hover motionlessly above Sinus Medii exactly at the Moon’s 0º latitude and right ascension coordinates. The tower contained dozens of elevator rails to easily transport people and freight between Grimaldi Station and Surveyor City below on the lunar surface — it was a vital, delicate lifeline for the lunar colonies, which were buried under the surface to protect their inhabitants from the deadly radiation aboveground.

Peregrine gently coasted into a berth on the northwestern “leg” of the station, which stuck out from it like the hairs on a tarantula’s exoskeleton. There were hundreds of these gantries, many of them with spacecraft docked. Peregrine pointed her nose at the blue Earth as she docked, so that her decks ran parallel to the lunar surface. After Peregrine’s hull touched the gantry, large arms with powerful clamps unfolded to fasten the ship in place.

“And that, gentlesophs, is how we do that,” Jon bragged after everyone heard the dull thud and felt the light shake of the clamps locking.

“You docked 0.32 meters per second too fast,” Peregrine commented bemusedly, “and your alignment was off by 0.7 centimeters.”

“Considering that I was eyeballing it for the last 15 seconds, I think it went well,” Jon replied.

“If you say so, dear,” Peregrine dismissed.

“Anyways,” Jon concluded as he stood up and made his way to the below decks ladder, “Make sure those hydrocarbon tanks get removed, and that we get paid for bringing them here.”

“Roger, love!” Peregrine confirmed as Jon climbed down to the accommodations deck. He got to the bottom just in time for Sara to trip over her own two feet and bowl straight into him.

“Ow! Goddammit!” Sara yelled in frustration.

“Easy there, Earther,” Jon said as he helped Sara to her feet, “You’re not used to 1/6th g and the lack of Coriolis motion. It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

“I fucking hate space,” Sara grumbled, “Everywhere I go, I have to learn to walk all over again.”

“Well, with any luck you won’t have to anymore,” Jon said, “Once we’ve got you situated on Luna, you’ll have the rest of your life to adapt.”

“Hold up,” Sara protested, “Ain’t I part of your crew?”

“Look, I only told the good captain that so I could keep them from locking you away in an Earth Forces black site forever,” Jon dismissed as he made his way over to the next below decks ladder, “I never said you were hired. In fact, I don’t even know how you could possibly be helpful to this crew.”

“I’m strong,” Sara argued desperately as she followed him down the ladder, “maybe stronger than you, even! I can help carry stuff around!”

“So is Tallen,” Jon countered impatiently, “Look, it’s not your body I doubt, it’s your mind and your education that I find wanting.”

“Why? ’Cause I’m an Earther!?”

“Frankly, yes!” Jon snapped, “Even the smartest and best educated Earthers score an average of 47 points lower across the board than your typical Martian in a 7-Factor Intelligence Assessment — that’s about equal to a difference of 50 IQ points. Earthers require a stupendous amount of time, effort, and resources to be uplifted to the point where they can even function in Martian society, and to be perfectly candid, even with all the best remedial education and wetware upgrades that Mars can provide, you’ll never truly be accepted by society because you’ll stand out as a salvage job! You got it!?”

Sara was stunned into silence by Jon’s tirade. Even Martians thought that she was a waste of resources.

“That said,” Jon concluded, “there may be a place for you here in the Lunar colonies. While we’re here in Surveyor City, I’ll talk to some people I know about finding you work and a place to stay, as well as resources to continue your education.”

They finally made their way into the airlock, which had both doors open and leading to the pressure gantry which connected the ship to Grimaldi Station. Misty, Tallen, and Ayane were waiting for them. Misty looked upset.

“Well, “Jon ordered, “let’s get going. Next stop: Surveyor City.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The main concourse of Grimaldi Station was located in the cephalothorax region of the spider, where all of the legs branched out from. Its design was grandiose, overstated, and cavernous — typical of Earther architecture. While it was doubtless comfortable to Earthers, most Selenites found the wide open spaces and the day/night cycle complete with natural sounds from Earth played in the background unsettling — a natural consequence of spending one’s entire lifetime living in tunnels and furnished lava tubes.

Inspector Finchley exited the hall to the eastern leg of the station and tumbled into the outer court of the main concourse, his stride hampered by his unfamiliarity with the low gravity. He looked up quickly enough to see one of the Selenite clerks stifle her giggle at his clumsiness. Finchley glared at her before picking himself up and continuing on his way, bruised ego and all.

There were thousands of people in the concourse, all going about their business in a manner befitting one of the largest spaceports in the Earth Sphere. The bustle of human activity was dizzying — Finchley could hear at least 11 different languages being spoken all at once in this slice of the concourse alone. Looking out across the rotunda, he could see the bright lights and color of the commercial sector, and six levels down, the mirrored enclosure concealing the interior of the discom — short for “discretion compartment.”

The discom was an essential part of life in space, he was told: an officially demarcated sector of a colony where surveillance by the government or station security was prohibited. No records existed of what went on inside — indeed, the only circumstance under which law enforcement was permitted entry was if they had been summoned there by someone within in the event of an emergency. While not its primary function, most of the station’s brothels, gambling halls, fight clubs, and drug dens were located there, and the Organization’s agents operated openly within. Despite being a fertile breeding ground for criminal activity, it was also an important place for informal diplomacy — it was in that very location in 2109 that the 15th Dalai Lama secretly negotiated with the prime minister of India for the right to establish an autonomous Tibetan colony under Tenzing Montes on Pluto in defiance of the Chinese government’s resettlement ban on its non-Han Chinese subjects.

Still, it was a bloody nuisance when it came to keeping law and order in the colonies. Bloody Loonies and their cultural peculiarities.

Finchley felt his handset vibrate in his pocket. “Finchley,” he said as he answered the call.

“Ewan, this is Anh Lihn Nguyen,” the caller said, “Could you please come to the Governor’s Residence right away? There’s been an incident that requires the attention of the Ministry of Inquiry, and I’m told that you’re in the neighborhood.”

“What sort of incident?” Finchley asked.

“Governor Najjar is dead,” Nguyen replied, “and I believe he may have been murdered.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

Even racing down toward Surveyor City at an acceleration rate of 11.6 kilometers per hour, it still took the Grimaldi Space Elevator 1 hour, 37 minutes, and 24 seconds to make the trip. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fast — it was, after all, an express train to the surface with no stops along the way.

The station at the base of the elevator was yet another bustling thoroughfare, divided into two passenger terminals on opposite sides of the tether, each with a cyclopean loading dock on either side for freight. While the cargo elevator trains could be seen ascending and descending from the banks of large plate windows in the passenger foyer, the actual process of longshoremanship was deliberately concealed by armored airlock doors so that the throngs of terrestrial tourists wouldn’t have to witness the Selenite stevedores serving the Sisyphean scutwork of logistical labor — after all, it wouldn’t do for vacationing Earthers to have their Lunar holiday ruined by the sight of those menial Morlocks laboring long hours, greasing the gears of civilization.

Misty hadn’t spoken the entire trip, and showed no signs of starting after they exited the train. While she was never particularly loquacious to begin with, Jon knew her well enough to be concerned whenever she got dead silent. However, she wordlessly rebuffed him every time he tried to bring it up on the trip down, so he decided to leave it alone. She’ll talk about what’s bothering her when she’s ready.

They exited the boarding tower along with the hundreds of tourists, government officials, businesspeople, soldiers, spacers, and others flowing out of the gates to the duty-free commercial zone on the way to the subway terminals which served as the largest arrival and departure hub on the Moon. The loop line that made the round trip to Surveyor City, located 114 kilometers north underneath the southern wall of Murchison Crater, was the only one that ran frequently enough to not require a schedule.

If there’s one place that’s even more of a shithole than Earth, Jon thought as he tried to ignore the scene of spaceport commerce that threatened to engulf him, it’s Luna. It’s run by clueless Earthers who don’t even have to set foot on this dust ball. They neither understand nor care about the reality of living in space, while the poor Selenites who have to actually live here are left to frantically mailbox neglected infrastructure because they’re not afforded the resources they need to maintain them right. Hell, about the only part of Lunar colonies that are maintained properly are the tourism amenities. Plus, everyone’s in a hurry, either to keep the ailing systems running or to appease visiting Earthers, so there’s little opportunity for pleasantries. The fact that the natives have to live in tunnels while they’re forced to wait hand and foot on Earthers who get to live in the lap of luxury has been a constant source of unrest here for generations.

Tallen stopped briefly at a gift kiosk and purchased a little scale model of the Surveyor 6 space probe, which was clearly printed from aluminum powder bonded by epoxy. Jon noticed that when the clerk rang him up, the register automatically raised the price by 30% for his low credit score.

The thing I can’t stand the most is the micromanagement, Jon grumbled internally, I don’t mind a panopticon surveillance system — anyone who’s not from Earth is used to being monitored by some authority or another — but this ridiculous social credit system that’s been imposed upon them by their terrestrial overlords dictates what services you’re entitled to, right down to the price you pay in stores. I’ve lost count of the number of times Peregrine has been preempted for docking by a lunar ferry full of big-noise Earthers because they can afford to buy a better social rating. If I had my way, I’d never come back here again, but it can’t be helped.

“Where are we going first?” Ayane asked Jon surreptitiously.

“I think we’ll go see our mutual acquaintance first,” Jon mulled, “Hopefully that meets with your approval.”

“You’re the captain,” she replied, “You don’t need my approval.”

“But it is your mission,” Jon countered, “Don’t you want to grab a bite first or something?”

“You’re not trying to hit on me, are you?” Ayane asked low-key playfully, “Because I’m afraid that Martian tramp freighter captains really aren’t my type.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jon answered, “The woman I’m married with is right behind us, after all.”

“Are you saying that marriage prevents men from seeking affairs?” Ayane asked coyly.

“No,” Jon replied, “I literally wouldn’t dream of it. It’s not in my nature.”

“Is that so?” Ayane asked with feigned disappointment, “You’ll never know what you missed.”

They continued down the crowded concourse for a full minute before the realization struck Jon like a meteorite.

“Wait,” he asked in disbelief, “were you hitting on me?” Ayane smirked.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

The Lunar Governor’s residence was conveniently located in Grimaldi Station’s abdomen, between the tether and the rest of the spider. The campus was inside an expansive enclosure which was large enough to accommodate a mansion which rivaled the manors of Gilded Age industrialists in size and grandeur, as well as grounds half a hectare in area. The bulkheads displayed a soothing grassland landscape, complete with simulated sunlight and cloud cover against a sky a shade of blue not seen on Earth in 400 years.

Finchley thought that the wrought-iron fence in granite masonry was a little much, although it complemented the property’s fortifications nicely. The layer of ballistic glass discreetly mounted behind the barricade further drove home the fact that visitors would spend their entire stay under a microscope.

Coming up to the baroque front gate, Finchley presented his credentials to the soldiers standing guard in full tactical gear. After finding his paperwork satisfactory, the gate unlocked and swung open. He was ushered inside, where he was met by two agents of the campus security force. They escorted him down the cobblestone path to the mansion.

Finchley noted the two MCV-92A1 Jianyings barely concealed behind the meticulously trimmed hedgerows flanking the path. These Mechanized Combat Vehicles, while descended from the main battle tanks in use in the 21st century, had about as much in common with them as a tank did with a horse-drawn chariot. They stood on four articulated, insectoid legs, each terminating in an armored caterpillar tread. Their hulls resembled those of battle tanks, complete with sloped armor and a turret mounting a main cannon, with a light machine gun and an automatic grenade launcher on pintle mounts outside the commander and comms operator hatches. Underneath, they had four rocket motors for limited flight capability.

As they approached the front door, Finchley saw an armored car parked out front emblazoned with the eye-within-a-shield insignia of the Ministry of Public Safety’s Department of Vigilance. The main entrance to the mansion opened, and four operatives wearing the blue armbands of the Department of Vigilance exited, guiding a young Selenite woman wearing the uniform of a maid employed at the Governor’s residence out in irons, her mouth gagged by a stainless steel bridle fastened by a chain. Finchley’s eyes met hers for an instant, and he could see the defeated resignation to whatever fate awaited her in her eyes. Their moment of eye contact was broken when the agents dragged her off to the car.

Finchley’s escort only followed him as far as the main entrance, where they turned around and marched back to the front gate. He was met by the butler, who wordlessly led him inside. The two entered the main atrium, climbed the grand staircase, and turned down several corridors to an ostentatious dining hall with a polished marble tile floor. Apart from the campus security guards, there were four people in the room. Three of them were wearing Lunar Security Solutions uniforms, busy examining the scene.

The fourth person was the governor himself, a fat Sudanese man with his face buried in his meal, his skin mottled blue and white. There was a wet patch on the table near his right hand, and the broken remains of a shattered drinking glass lay scattered on the floor nearby.

One of the LSS investigators, a muscular Vietnamese woman with short black hair, looked up from her tablet at Finchley, and after dismissing her colleague she walked over to him.

“Inspector Finchley,” she said, offering her hand.

“Detective Nguyen,” Finchley reciprocated, shaking her hand, “I believe I was summoned?”

“I asked them to send their best,” Nguyen said playfully, “Farouk Al-Amir Najjar, the United Earth Governor-General of the Lunar Colonies, is dead. We’re running the bloodwork now, but given that he died suddenly at the dinner table, we’re assuming foul play.”

“Is that Selenite woman I saw being escorted off of the premises your prime suspect?” he asked.

“Yes, security logs show that she was attending to the victim when he died,” Nguyen confirmed, sending Finchley the case files with a flick from her tablet, “but to summarize: She poured him a glass of water, he drank from it, and minutes later he began convulsing and had trouble breathing, and then he collapsed, his skin started to turn blue from lack of oxygen. From the moment he took the first sip, he was dead within five minutes.”

“It sounds like he died from heart failure,” Finchley guessed.

“Heart failure?” Nguyen asked incredulously, “On the moon? Retirees come up here because the low gravity is easier on the bodies of the elderly. More people here die of tropical diseases than heart problems.”

“Well,” Finchley declared, “I don’t know about you, but I’m famished.”

“I know a good Mexican restaurant in the western concourse,” Nguyen offered, “I’ll buy.”

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

How exactly does one contract a tropical disease in space?” Finchley asked before spooning a forkful of barbacoa from his bowl into his mouth.

“You’d be amazed what gets past the bioscans at Turrim Asia,” Nguyen sighed, “I hear that Heaven’s Pillar had a coronavirus outbreak just last month.”

“Sounds like the Department of Space Elevator Operations fouled up again,” Finchley complained.

“No chance the coming transition in government will shuffle the cabinet enough to solve that problem?” Nguyen asked, “The last thing the colonies need right now is a pandemic caused by a traveler forgetting to wash their hands.” She took a hearty bite out of her burrito, which was large enough to require both hands to hold.

“I should hope not,” Finchley mulled through a mouthful of Mexican-grilled barbecue, “Widespread reform could make things worse, especially for Section 5.”

“I suppose,” Nguyen considered, “especially since the Pan-American Federation is up for appointing the next Prime Minister. I hear that they’ve chosen someone from the United States to head the coming government, if you can believe that!”

An American?” Finchley exclaimed in astonishment, “Bloody hell, this’ll be a disaster! Couldn’t they have picked someone from a civilised country, like Haiti or Venezuela?

“I’d be more optimistic about this whole thing if it weren’t for how calamitously the last time they ruled the world went,” Nguyen munched in agreement, “but maybe the Americans have learned their lesson and won’t try to be the world’s policeman again.”

“I doubt it,” Finchley observed, “The Americans never really saw themselves as conquerors, not even at the height of their empire. They always managed to delude themselves into believing that they were liberating their subjects from oppressive regimes somehow.”

Nguyen glanced at the wedding ring on Finchley’s hand. “Speaking of oppressive regimes,” she began cautiously, “I take it that you’re still married to that hag?”

“No,” Finchley said, “Sinead filed for divorce six months ago. She was absolutely livid when she found out about us.”

“What tipped her off?” Nguyen asked, “She didn’t strike me as the brightest star in the sky.”

“I was on Ceres working on a case when our tax preparer called about some unusual charges to our joint credit account,” Finchley confessed, “Because of the 25-minute time lag, she got back to him first. The rest is history.” He punctuated his last sentence by knocking back a finger of scotch. He flipped the glass over with practiced dexterity and slapped it onto one of the hedgehog’s springy aluminum spines along with the other two glasses he had already finished.

“It’s not like you to leave a data trail like that,” Nguyen commented before taking another voluminous bite out of her burrito.

“You’re right about that,” Finchley agreed, “Maybe I wanted her to find out so it would be over, but I just couldn’t admit it to myself.”

He ate another forkful of spicy barbacoa and barely chewed it before swallowing.

“It’s not as if she was at all surprised by it,” Finchley continued with a bitterness rivaled only by Nguyen’s beer, “just angry that it actually happened. When she finally gave notice that she wanted to separate, I was struck most by what a quiet affair it was.”

He knocked back his fourth scotch before continuing. “I suppose that after all of the arguments have been had, the recriminations made, and harsh language inflicted, there’s really nothing left to say.”

Next Chapter: De Motu Corporum VIII



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