Chapter 1

(copyright 2017. All rights reserved)

The wind howled outside. The storm had been battering the station with grit for two solid weeks, and it set Eladio Ramirez’ teeth on edge. He’d foolishly believed that since he couldn’t sleep, he’d get some work done on the monthly reports. Mixed messages from Earthside had been increasing. The Council, composed of private investors, gained nothing from Martian self-sufficiency, but the governmental oversight board mandated ever more sustainable operations, and lately shortages were becoming a problem. As Director, resolving these issues fell squarely on his shoulders.

I would rather chew aluminum foil than continue listening to this endless scrape-scrape-scrape across the walls. Eladio again tried to focus on the report in front of him. He was reading the first paragraph for the third time when his comm chimed.

“Yes?”

“Hey, Chief,” crackled Sam Franklin’s voice. “We got a problem.”

“A problem of what sort?”

“One you need to see. Don’t want to talk about it over comms.”

Sam never bothered him with minutiae. If his head of tech ops thought it was important enough to call, it probably was.

“You are where?”

“Outside Hab-C.”

“I will be there shortly.”

“Thanks, Chief. I’ll meet you at the airlock. Bring your suit.”

Eladio sighed. Out into the storm? Madre, grit will be everywhere and I will be battered senseless by the time we are done. “Very well. I will be with you in twenty minutes.”

Eladio extracted his suit from his overpacked quarters, then worked his way across the station to the Hab-C airlock. Sam helped him suit up, and minutes later they were being buffeted by the wind-driven dust .

Dios, I can see nothing. And all of it red as if by the devil’s nightlight. Slowly Eladio’s eyes became accustomed to the dim light from the high-intensity LEDs above the airlock door. It became enough for him to make out a suited form against the side of the hab.

The figure’s visor was dark, and a little scratched—probably scoured by the storm—but the face was visible. Ah, the fat chief scientist from Hydro.This was, or had been, Robert Granger. “You found him so?”

“Yeah. Haven’t touched a thing.”

“You must please speak more loudly. Barely can I hear you over the grit bouncing from my helmet. So, he is dead?”

“Very. Suit battery’s drained, and his air is gone.”

I am here why? “You needed me to see what?”

“Look at the faceplate. Not much condensation. “

Eladio looked again. The suit had a light rime covering in places, especially the feet, which were farther from the protection of the hab wall. He rubbed his glove across the faceplate and what little there was came off. No frost showed on the inside. Strange. “If he was out here last night, without batteries, it should be full of frost, no?”

“Yeah. It should.”

“His suit, perhaps there is a leak?”

“Registers say no.”

“What is it we see?”

“I’m guessing he was dead when he went in the suit. Or, at least, before it was sealed.”

Eladio looked up, his dark eyes locking with Sam’s. He wanted to be sure he understood what the man wasn’t saying.

“You believe it is murder?”

“Seems like. At the very least, someone went to a lot of effort to put him in a suit, seal him up, and put him out here.”

Eladio shook his head. This seemed impossible. We are scientists. Who would kill this man?

“You discovered him how?”

“I was checking Solar Two. It’s been down since the storm peaked and I wanted to be sure there weren’t other problems. The grit can play hell with the electronics. When I came out, here he was.”

Eladio nodded. “Let us move him inside. We will ask Dr. Sussman to take a look. We will see if she can tell us by what means he died.”

“Aye-aye, Chief. On the DL?”

Why always with these strange words? “The dee-el? This is meaning?”

“Sorry, Chief, it means on the down-low. You know, under the radar? It means keep it quiet.”

“Yes. Yes, very quiet. See what we may find before we speak of it. Dr. Sussman, you will tell her?”

“Will do.”

Murder. Eladio hoped Dr. Sussman would find some other cause or reason. But if not, he must be prepared. Madre. This will be the very devil’s trick. The Council must be told, and soonest, but not so soon. Answers first would be the best. If this is murder….

Neither Sam nor Eladio were big men, but Granger had been. It took both of them to wrestle the body through the outer airlock door. Between the man’s weight, the weight of his suit, and the clumsy bulkiness of their own, They were sweating, huffing, and puffing before they were in the airlock, the lower gravity notwithstanding. Muscle atrophy, she is the harsher mistress. I must dedicate more time to exercise. Sam resealed the outer door, and they helped each other vacuum dust off their suits and then remove them. With the two of them grunting and straining, Eladio and Franklin managed to lift Granger’s large, stiff, pressure-suit clad body onto a pushcart, cover it with a tarp, and get the cart pointed toward Medical with Sam pushing.

After dropping his suit back in his quarters Eladio headed to his office, thinking about how to handle this. No police. No coroner, though Dr. Sussman will surely be able to say some things. Also no judges, no courts.No room for even a jail cell. Facility construction used multinational funding, both public and private. But nobody actually owned the outside. At least, no agreement on that had been reached so far. Madre, what a mess. I have no thought even what laws we must use.Dios, let it not be murder.

Once at his desk he pinged Justine Grady.

“Hey, ‘ladio. S’up?”

“Tina, I need, please, for you to do something. Can you examine the logs for Robert Granger from, oh, perhaps midday yesterday forward? I wish to discover where he was throughout the day.”

“Problem?”

“Something. I cannot say until more is known.”

“Okay, Chief. I’ll jump on it after I—”

“No, after nothing. This now becomes your top priority.”

“That serious?”

“Yes, I believe it is.”

“Sounds mysterious. He disappear or something?”

“Please, just tell me what you have found, yes?”

“Okay, will do.”

chapter-2