Code of Affliction: The Terraforming Dirt [Chapter 07]

07. The Terraforming Dirt

Andras pulled the isotherm jacket off the solitary hanger and donned it over the grey-blue, graphite one-piece suit of his uniform. He ran his palms over the soft squishy material, patting the many pockets, feeling every crack in the worn fabric. Today, however, it did not bring him comfort.

After years of work in the mining industry, Andras did not remember when was the last time he owned a bag of any sorts. It was easier to keep things in the pockets rather than transfer them each time from a bag to the vest and back at the start and end of the shift. Besides, when the miners’ village was relatively safe, his niece Mira lived in the slums where everything could happen. He had filed multiple requests for her accommodation in the miners’ village, but each time the application came back rejected. “Not eligible” stated the reply. He should have adopted her back them when she was just a girl. Too late for that now.

Mira always waved it off and affected she was used to her place, but Andras guessed she did it mostly for his sake. She also preferred to visit him rather than invite her uncle over. But today he did not have an option. He looked the vest over once again. The fraying edges together with the uniform would send the signal to the potential assailants he was a pointless target. Everyone new – any employee of the Lemming Inc. below the top managerial level barely scraped for a living. True, miners received extra rations during the shifts, but apart from that and the corporate provided accommodation, he was as poor as the slum dwellers.

Andras scooped the square of the communicator from the shelf, flipped it open and pressed his finger into the centre. A radial menu sprang to life; Andras rotated it and choose the Messages icon – the last two dozens he had sent in the previous 36 hours sat there without reply. He moved to the Calls and chose Mira’s number at the very top of the list.

“We could not place your call. The account is currently ranged-out. Sorry for the inconvenience,” cracked the pre-recorded voice.

He prayed that this meant nothing bad – Mira could be in the area recently exposed to a solar flare. Cen, the bigger of their suns, had been rather violent in the recent months, and the equipment kept failing them. She could have run out of credits, or somebody had hacked her account and stole those credits – at the moment he did not care much for the technicalities.

Andras snapped the communicator close and shoved it into the top left pocket, where it seeped its warmth against his heart. He felt a sharp tug in that area and for a second the room went black. Automatically he reached with his fist for the wall, stabilising himself as he took lungfuls of air. The arrhythmia was getting worse and the fact that he had missed the visit to the doctor did not help. Mira was supposed to go with him; however, when she did not arrive on time in his flat, Andras forgot everything about the doctor, calling and messaging her but to no avail. Mira was the most punctual person he knew, and she would never skip something as important as his doctor’s visit, not without a warning. After all, it was she who pulled him from the other side – she had found the surgeons when the virus gave him mutations, she negotiated the operation and nursed him afterwards, his brave little niece. He knew that one day she would have to go her separate way – she needed the freedom, she could conquer the universe with her talent, she did not have to waste her life next to the ageing man on the depleting planet doing all the community jobs. And yet it was so hard to let her go. Maybe, she had felt he was becoming a cage for her and fled? No, if she decided to do that, she would say it straight into his face – she would not simply disappear. Something must have happened to her.

Andras grabbed the rest of his stuff – the apartment keycard, his authorisation bracelet, lunch vouchers, his pills and a flask of nitrogen solution, the compact multi-use instrument, the pocketknife, the old spotted knuckleduster he dug from the bottom drawer, and a picture of Mira. It had been taken a few years ago, before his surgery, and in it she looked so young, unmarred by the stress of his illness. Her dark brown hair was separated in the middle and rolled into two high buns on each side. She wore his old isotherm shirt over her yellow tank top, the sleeves rolled up five times, and smiled. His troubles had aged her since, but she would still be recognisable. He hid the photo in the inner pocket, placed the respirator over his nose and mouth, and moved out of the flat.

The miners’ district was waking up as the first sun peeked its top over the horizon. The starchy smell of the morning gruel wafted from a few open windows. It was still relatively cool and the wind barely breathed from the desert, giving the miners a chance to air their flats in the domes. The cupola blocks of flats had gill-like flapping sections with air conditioning and regulation systems, but those had not been properly cleaned in years. Filled with dust and sand carried from the open spaces, the gill sections now weren’t much different from the calcium silicate sheets that comprised the walls of the buildings. Authorities said it was the responsibility of the miners’ family members to maintain the functionality of the domes unless there was a major malfunction. In reality, those who did not have to go into the quarry every day toiled in the greenhouses, on packing lines, in the spaceport, fulfilled their community quotas and returned home barely in advance to prepare the meals for their mining spouses.

“Hi, Andras, you’r early today,” Jose’s rolling r’s sounded from the open window in the third level of the neighbouring dome. “Doctor’s visit?”

Jose was another chap from the mines. Unlike Andras, who operated the drilling machine, he was one of the hand-pickers. You could tell it by looking at Jose’s muscled arms and calloused hands. Andras preferred not to share the true purpose of his early walk and nodded.

“Just the routine check, Jose. Wish the best to your charming wife.” Andras winked, hiding his unease behind the flirtatious bluff, which Jose would see through.

It would be bad if the gossip started to spread that he was still seeing the doctors. He had let his supervisor believe that the surgery and the temporary isolation had dealt with the problem completely – it had been the only way to keep his job. But he would not allow any rumours to circulate about Mira.

He waved a hurried goodbye and turned into the road, leading to the main city. At this early hour there were no tracked vehicles, so he walked in the middle, his reinforced boots pushing ochre dust in the air. The only things to designate it was a road and not the wilderness were the lines of border slabs on each side and fewer cracks on the surface, as they were regularly filled in with the silicate substance. Arkaedonium, the metal they mined on Raj-3, was not explosive, but the whole atmosphere of the planet was combustible thanks to the high percentage of hydrogen and some presence of oxygen. So they took precautions to keep the batteries of the vehicles intact.

Three quarters of an hour later he reached the industrial glass blocks of the greenhouses. The first sun was almost fully up and the crown of the second one was nudging its brother. Andras felt his cryocells at work – a tingling cooling sensation spread across his arms and legs, not protected by the isotherm vest. He was happy he took the flask of the nitrogen solution: after such a march across Maphis town, he would be exhausted, his cryocells demanding extra energy to regulate his temperature. Applying the solution topically would keep him cool longer without using extra bodily resources.

It was difficult to find shadow in this area, so he was relieved when the outer circle of the main districts appeared. He hurried into the streets, the domes here higher, reaching fifteen levels at times. Andras stayed closer to the walls, choosing the shortest way to the slums.

They had built a new fence at the outer edge of the city proper – simple chain link with a bit of barbed wire at the top; he did not see any guards or gates and was surprised there were no cuts in the mesh. It was logical the central domes wanted to separate themselves from the less safe areas; some of the buildings on this side still bore the indentations and traces of sun-bleached paint. With a sigh, Andras walked along the fence until it ended abruptly – either they ran out of materials or hoped that the slum gangs would be too lazy to go all the way around, or both (which was very likely). His cryocells were exerting themselves at the maximum and he felt the arrhythmia returning. He walked on, squeezing Mira’s picture in his right pocket. Small clusters of purple cacti grew here and there, but the closer he came to his destination, the more he saw the stumps of them. Raj-3-ians seldom scavenged the local flora. It proved rather nutritious, but the plants were slow to grow. Harvesting them would quickly deplete the planet, and, under the UGN regulations on the low-terraformed planets, they were supposed to maintain the nature in balance. Fat chance, he thought, knowing all the nuts and bolts of the local mining.

By the time he had reached the outskirts of the slums – third buildings, third ruins, third something self-erected– his chest was aching. He leaned against a half-tumbled structure and promised himself to reschedule the doctor as soon as he returned home. His eyes caught some movement in-between the silicate columns on the other side of the street. Most of the building panels were gone, three quarters of the ceiling had caved in and still a woman, dressed only in shorts and a tank-top went around her usual business, cleaning what Andras realised to be her house. Three decades ago there was a huge baby boom, spurred by a lull in the epidemics. This gave a huge boost to the slums growth. Unfortunately, Mira was a victim to the demographics as well.

The local domes were built from cheap materials, which sped their decay. Arkaedonium in the planet’s core protected them from the excess of the radiation so far, but the radical change in temperatures between day and night still eroded the material. As Andras hurried on, he wondered, not for the first time, how the human life had become so low-valued. People who did not get a stable position in the mining had to find ways to survive here; there was no chance to emigrate, because it would require extensive implantation of the body or staged genetic therapy for them to be able to live on a different planet. The registered status of Raj-3-ians as a subspecies of Homo sapiens in the UGN charter did nothing to change that. He knew he would die on this planet, but Mira… Well, if he kept his work and won a juicy, fat bonus as the longest-working and most productive employee, he might be able to afford an implantation for her. But first he had to find her.

The domed blocks of flats were becoming slightly more decent as he neared the area where Mira lived. It still stunk of defecation, vomit and rot from some narrow alleys – the medical services were slow to reach here, if ever, and those affected by mutations could lie in the heat for hours if not days, unless their neighbours pulled the corpses away. Once he saw a group of three teenagers playing with long knives as they walked by. It was hard to tell whether they truly belonged to a gang or were simply affecting they had power, but Andras moved his knuckleduster into his uniform pocket to reach it faster. Could it be that Mira was stocked by a group like that when she was returning from work? He thought of her walking these streets in the dead of the night after her performance, the path lit only by a few still unbroken lampposts, maybe, she even had to use her torchlight. They might have wanted the wages she carried or sexual entertainment. His eyes now searched frantically around, as if her body could be found behind the next corner or in a ditch. He had already allowed one woman to disappear without a trace from his life, and she had not run away from him either. Mirabel, the aunt Mira was named after, had not lived in the slums; she was a genius engineer, who even Lemming Inc. had to reckon with. But she had insatiable curiosity and love for the skies. They had stopped searching for her after one day, claiming that the accident with her flying apparatus could have happened anywhere and that she knew the risks of it malfunctioning. They could not spare the people for the searching party, and he did not have the means to go on his own. Mirabel’s image appeared in his mind’s eye – the same long brown hair as Mira’s, only her stature was sturdier, proper thick Raj-3 bones. Unlike her niece, Mirabel’s skin was not frostily white, as almost every inch of it was covered in carbon tattoos, which did not destroy the cryocells. There were fewer picture among those, mostly depictions of spiritual forces; the major blocks of ink were lines of kanji. The story she promised to read to him off her body one day, but never managed to.

Andras had finally reached the flat and pulled out the spare key Mira had given him when she just moved in here. In the slums they did not use access cards, like in the miners’ village. It gave a little bit more protection in the times of solar flares, when the electronics went out – you still had to pick the lock or smash out the door to reach for the possessions. He inserted the key – the lock was uncooperative, but with a bit of force he managed to pry it open. He did not know what to expect – a total chaos? Her dead body? A farewell letter?

Things seemed ordinary in the room. The bed was diligently made; no food remained on the table and the plate in the drying rack was not wet. He looked into the fridge and saw a small stash of provisions – a vacuum package of the cheapest freezable root vegetable mash by Talko (known for buying off the veggies on the border of rotting and pre-processing them into an unidentifiable mix), a half-empty jar of protein paste and three dry bars, one of them half-eaten. The wrapper’s end stuck out, showing the bite mark, as if the owner was coming back to eat it any moment. Andras sighed and moved to the wardrobe. Inside, the tin with money was in its usual place; he opened it to see two tiny squares of plastic, Mira’s last credits, and her ID. One of her performance costumes, lush green like vegetation on Earth-type planets, hung inside – she hated keeping them at work, since one got “accidentally” destroyed while other girls were in the changing rooms. It looked like she had gone to work and… did not come back. But why? He transferred the last two credits into his inner pocket; he did not trust to leave them here.

Andras checked the time – his shift was beginning in two and a half hours, since he was on the midday rota today. If he caught a truck going in the direction of the mine later, he could investigate some more and still make it on time. He locked the flat and went out, picking up the path to the “Bunny Tail”, Mira’s workplace.

Andras had never been to the cabaret. It was established silently between him and Mira, since his niece quit the position in Lemming Inc. Without any fear of heights, just like her aunt Mirabel, Mira spent a year climbing the rocks and creavasses to set up the corporate sensors (she was good with climbing, not so good with corporate ethics). After that she was helping the town, going up the domes and taking the measurements of their stability. But that did not last either: when the last dome was checked, she was kindly asked to return the harness and the rest of the equipment. For better or for worse, one of the local entrepreneurs had just open “The Bunny Tail” and he had seen Mira flipping and dancing on the dome’s roofs during her breaks, like it was her stage, swinging on the ropes, twisting her body in unnatural shapes.

Andras hated her going there but kept silent. It was not just the money – and he was honest with himself, these money had got him the surgery when it was needed – he knew she was built for that; she was all cartwheels and twirls, having the plasticity none of the Raj-3-ians could boast. Somewhere her genome went off the viral therapy path, granting her thinner bones, lighter structure and incredible elasticity. It did not change the fact how the audience looked at her in that cabaret place – they undressed her with their eyes, saw her splits as an invitation, reducing the dance to a dirty sexual fantasy. They both knew he would not be able to bear that. Andras realised his aversion to the place pained Mira, because he would be the only person to see the true essence of the performance. He could not help it.

Now, finally, he was standing in front of the dome painted luscious dark red; a white-neon sign, surrounded by phallic light bulbs, which flickered and cracked, hung over the door, one side of which was open a foot as an invitation. There were no performances during the day, but the premise was open for inhalations, even so early in the morning, and if you were lucky, you could sometimes see bits of rehearsal or chat up the girls when they were not working. Andras hoped to do just the latter.

He walked in to find the place almost empty. The right wall had a long glass cabinet with open cells, holding small capsule-like containers of silvery metal with nozzles. The percentage of alcohol in the gas was printed in thick black letters on each container, sometimes a smaller print underneath described the taste. At the level of the bar counter there was a rack with hooks – several dozen inhalators hung from it; most of them were simple, utilitarian, but Andras noticed a few funky ones, for special mixtures.

The stage was lit by a single ramp lamp, and a woman, who looked in her late forties, was washing its floor. Johny Tuk, the owner of the place, was clearly saving on purifying installations and cleaning robots. The area around the stage had already been cleaned, judging by the fact that the chairs were overturned and placed on the tabletops.

“Where can I find the changing rooms?” he asked the woman, who jumped having not heard his approach. Her eyes darted from Andras to a back door. “I am here just to pick up some things of my niece, Mira Valar, she works here.”

He hoped it might spur the woman to talk, but she chewed on her lip and squeezed the vacuumer handle.

“Look, I am not trying to get you in any trouble. I am Mira’s uncle, Andras. She only asked me to pick something for her since she was not feeling great this morning.”

He saw a twitch in her jaw, her eyes huge with terror. Andras realised what he’d just said – with another spike of the epidemics her reaction was only natural – however, it was too late to remedy the situation. The cleaning lady was already backing away from him.

“Is it that way?” he asked futilely and beckoned at the door she had been looking at a moment ago.

She shook her head vigorously, but Andras could not tell whether it meant the door was wrong or she was shooing him away. Since Andras was already on the stage, he decided to check the back – there should be a passage to the changing rooms there. He stepped past the heavy synthetic curtains with a permanent brownish tinge to them thanks to the dust. It was even darked at the backstage. His right foot got entangled into something – he leaned to check and felt the soft silky fabric. He pulled out his communicator and shone with its screen – a length of navy-blue glistening material was piled up neglectfully, ochre dust particles already accumulating in the creases. He knew what it was almost immediately: Mira had boasted the pictures of the regal blue ribbons she made Johny Tuk buy for her performance. His heart pounded painfully. What did Johny Tuk know to be writing Mira off, after only 36 hours? Or, perhaps, Andras should be asking himself what Tuk did to Mira?

He left the silk where they were and stumbled around, looking for a door or stairs. He soon discovered a winding ramp, leading downstairs. As the hall upstairs was presentable, so the basement area was ramshackle. Things were piled around, the dust was everywhere, and the paint peeled off the doors, even though the cabaret was about three years old. One door at the end of the corridor was open, emitting light and quiet talking. Knowing he was running out of time before his shift, Andras hurried there. He knocked on the doorframe to announce his entrance, waited a moment and went in.

The dressing tables were crammed next to each other, so that the mirrors almost created a glass labyrinth. The surfaces were littered with multiple jars and cases, brushes and puffs, even a few pieces of fake jewellery, and a couple of inhalators betrayed the alcohol intake. Despite the early hour, the girls were already there, which made Andras wonder whether they had left at all. Their lacy dressing gowns revealed a vast amount of frosty white skin, some substance giving it a pearly shimmer. Their faces wore the signs of yesterday’s make-up; two had their hair covered in nets, while wigs lay in front of them. One of them was playing with the scanning device, bringing it close to her left shoulder, but pulling it away before the machine would take a blood sample.

All four of them looked at Andras without much enthusiasm. The woman on the very left sized him, hemmed and reached for a jar. The one next to her undid the net over her hair and began to comb them.

“Sweetie, I think you came to the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said running the brush through her silver hair. “Your fish should be some… ten-fifteen blocks away.”

Andras glanced at the empty dressing tables, trying to judge which one belonged to Mira, but there was nothing personal about any of them.

“Have you seen Mira?” he asked straightforwardly.

The looks on their faces changed immediately. If before it was a mixture superiority, flirt and pity, now they all looked at him with great distaste.

“And what would you want with that girl?” said the third woman, slightly older than the rest with springy red curls, which bobbed as she wrinkled her nose and shook her head ever slightly.

“She is never here in such ungodly hour,” joined the fourth, pushing a lock of hair under the net and checking something on her cheek. “She believes herself to be elite.”

Andras swallowed the sentence he was going to say and stared at them for a moment. The costume accident suggested it was not the nicest of environments to work in, but he did not expect such an outspoken hostility from Mira’s co-workers. For the umpteenth time he felt guilty because he was unable to provide a better opportunity for his girl – a transfer to a planet or a space hub where her talents would be properly recognised.

He caught the sight of the oldest of the four women – she was pressing an apparatus to her neck, which emitted blue flashes – some rejuvenation thing, perhaps, or immunotherapy: the black market was filled with machines impossible to tell apart. Perhaps, cabaret workers enjoyed higher wages thanks to VIP services, but their time was limited, even worse than in the mines, where you could ask to be moved to a less demanding position. Here, once you lost your charm, you were out. Andras remembered the cleaning lady and wondered whether she could have been one of these women in the past.

“But was Mira here at all yesterday?” he continued. The local undercurrents should not be his problem. When he found Mira, they would talk about it and try to find a solution, but first things first.

“Johny could have sacked her,” said the first woman, who up till now looked only in the mirror. “What good was she doing, flying under the cupola?” she pressed her lips, as if suppressing a snort.

“Which one is her table?” Andras was losing his patience; the women, even if they knew something weren’t going to help him.

The silver-haired waved at the dressing table in the very far corner. “Men and their tastes,” she purred, but there were harsher notes underneath the smile.

“He’s not your clientele, Judy,” said the older one as Andras walked to Mira’s table.

“He’s somewhat cute, though, you know. I like that ponytail and the beard, a bit of grey hair looks quite impressive on him. And he’s got intelligent eyes. He does not look like a fatted pig, you know what I mean.”

Andras quivered as if a slimy worm had just slid down his spine. Was it how these girls felt when men were choosing them? He focused on the items in front of him. There was a set for a full-face make-up, a half-empty blister of energy-&-immunity boosting pills. He rummaged through the drawers, but there were just extra brushes, elastic bands for hair, leather wrist and ankle bracelets with clasps. He shut the drawer harder than he wished and the whole dressing table shook.

“Hey, sweetie, don’t be so nervous. Perhaps, we can negotiate something between the two of us. It could be a good lesson for Mira.”

Andras saw with his peripheral vision the silver-haired blowing him a kiss. He ignored that and returned to his search, but there was little else to examine. He looked behind the table and saw his old isotherm shirt. It was probably hanging on the mirror but dropped. He pulled it out and shook off the brown-yellow dust. His hand hesitated. He had never searched through Mira’s things, not even when she was a teenager and more difficult to handle. But it was a different matter right now. The shirt looked like it had not been used in some time, but maybe there would be clues in the pockets. There were more elastic bands; he found an old torn thread-bracelet with a talisman he bought her as a birthday present – the kanji meaning “path” had dulled, yet she still kept it. Andras transferred it in his vest, then checked one last pocket. There was a crumpled piece of paper, which he first considered to be a napkin. He rolled it straight on the table to find handwritten text. Some words had become barely legible, the ink erased by the creases. However, the meaning of the message remained clear.

“If you don’t pay, your uncle gets a visit from us. Perhaps, a few broken limbs will show you we are serious. After that, you’re next.”

There was no signature, but it did not surprise Andras. What shocked him was the fact how blind he had been up till now, believing that her performances could earn enough for a valve implant and the corrective surgery. She went into debts to save him. He staggered and lowered himself onto the nearest chair. Through the blood pounding in his temples he heard the rustling of the fabric and a soft hand caressed his neck.

“Sweetie, perhaps, I can help you after all. You look so tense, and I am in the charitable mood today.”

He wrenched himself from her grip, out of the chair and into the corridor. He groped for the way as all he could see were the different scenes of the debt collectors beating Mira into pulp or holding her hostage for some sex labour. Generic as they were, they were driving him mad. He jumped onto the stage, trailing one of the navy-blue ribbons behind him. He paused to shake it off, kicking his leg as if it were a snake. Andras rushed for the door the cleaner looked at, hoping he would find Johny Tuk there. It was hard to believe the owner did not know what was happening to his employees.

Johny was sitting in a wide armchair, which fit his enormous sides. He toyed with an inhalator, while his other hand turned the pages in a folder. His red velvet jacket lay on the table next to it, the buttons of the graphite shirt undone till the middle of his chest.

“Where is she? Where is Mira?” Andras yanked the second armchair, which tumbled away, and leaned forward to smash his fist into the fake wood panel.

Tuk looked up at him languidly, without any fear. He closed the folder and moved it to the side, then took an inhalation before replying.

“You must be Andras, Mira’s uncle.” He lowered the inhalator and rested his hand on the armrest.

“Yes, I am,” Andras said, not thinking about how and why Johny Tuk knew him and what collateral it meant.

“I believe you are a bit too late. Mira is not working for us anymore.”

“What did you do to her bastard?” One of Andras’s arms reached for the collar of Tuk’s shirt, while the other exchanged the piece of paper for the knuckleduster in his pocket. It was only when he was holding the metal plate close to Johny’s face he realised what he was doing.

“You would regret it,” Tuk said in a calm voice and Andras felt the touch of the shocker needle under his left armpit. It would penetrate his flesh and deliver the voltage inside his body before he would administer the first blow. With his heart implant, it might be lethal. Andras raised his hands to show he was backing away. Johny grinned smugly. “Now, before you do something stupid, let me tell you that I simply terminated her contract because she refused to take extra duties.”

“Did she owe you money? Did you sell her to someone else?” Johny had the money, and Mira knew it. Perhaps, she hoped to pay it off by doing her usual work, but the recent epidemics had made it impossible.

“I am not in human-selling business, whatever you may think. I offer versatile services in the cabaret, but they are all mutually agreed. Mira was not earning for us anymore, so I let her go.”

“But she… she did not tell me. She was supposed to come here the day before yesterday.” He wiped a few strands of hair off his face.

“And that’s what she did. Dressed, rehearsed, then disappeared without performing. But I’m not going to hold this against her. It wasn’t going to change anything, and I believe she saw that.” Johny held the shocker needle against the table with the sharp tip pointing up.

“But she has not… she’s… I didn’t see…”

“Well, I don’t intervene into the family business of my employees. I believe you should proceed with your search elsewhere.” He inclined the needle towards Andras slightly.

“But I… she was threatened, did you know about that?”

Johny shrugged non-committally. “As I said, private lives of the employees remain private.”

“You must know. You go into those circles.” His heart was pounding too loudly in his chest and the mixture of adrenaline and anger weren’t doing Andras any good.

“Just be careful what you say next.” Johny tapped the shocker needle on the table. “You aren’t part of this ecosystem – you might break the rules without knowing it. It would not do Mira any good, if she is lost as you say.”

“Johny,” Andras rubbed his face, looked down to see he was still holding the knuckleduster and pocketed it away. “Please, I am sure you can give me at least something. A hint, a proof – anything.”

“And you’ll go with that to the police,” Tuk said matter-of-factly.

“What else can I do? I must help her if… if she’d been kidnapped or something.”

“And when you go to them and present what you know, it will spread to the gangs with lightspeed. I am not helping you, Andras. And perhaps you should leave it too. For Mira to sort it out herself. Whatever it is.”

Andras stared at Johny Tuk, who pressed the inhalator to his lips and took a deep intake. For a second there was a touch of purple colour to his cheeks. He was not telling Andras anything. What was he hoping for? Slowly, he got up and went back to the door. The exertion and the nerves were driving his arrhythmia up, even breathing fully he was suffocating. He paused outside the cabaret. When it did not help, he sat down in the dust and leaned against the wall. What was he supposed to do now? Go to the police who would leak the info to the gangs? But he could not leave Mira alone.

The clock on his communicator told him he had to be heading back to the quarry; he would need credits to move the matters or to pay ransom if the demand was made. But he could not make himself go to the mines, not yet.

When the police officer finally sat opposite him in the small department, just three blocks away from the cabaret, his shift had already begun and Andras received notification of the fines he was incurring. He swiped them away and focus on the man in front of him. The genetics went full swing at him, granting the officer not only white skin but also white hair and the eyes so pale they looked almost white. He scanned the form Andras had filled in and wrinkled his nose at the crumpled piece of paper but took it from him. Then the officer put everything aside, crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned back.

“It’s 36 hours only. And the note can be a bad joke.”

“You can’t seriously believe it is a joke.” Andras had to keep his left arm on his left ribs as the arrhythmia hurt him. “She paid for my operation. It was expensive. She had borrowed those money.”

“Which is completely legal. Perhaps, she went to earn somewhere else to pay it back before the negative consequences reached her.”

“She would tell me!” Andras winced.

“Would she? You mentioned in the form that you had no prior knowledge of this debt before. She clearly did not want you to know about it.”

“She would not… she’d say something.” Andras was breathing heavily, and the officer was eyeing him hesitantly. He clearly did not want Andras to collapse in here.

“Look, I know how it is. We always trust our family and think the best of them. But situations turn to be dire at times and then…”

“And that’s when you need to help people.” Andras leaned forward.

The officer was clearly unhappy with his own choice of words and how it was turned against him. “We help when there is enough evidence our help is needed. You wrote her communicator was out of range. She may be travelling to another town – for work. Give it time. Try to call her in a few days. I am sure it is all going to be alright.”

“What are you afraid of? The gangs? You monthly bonus? You are supposed to do your job.”

The officer raised an eyebrow. “Your niece lives in the slums. For all that we know she could be part of some gang herself. And the note was not for her – it was the note she was supposed to pass to somebody but forgot.”

“And that other person also had only her uncle as the nearest of kin?”

The younger man shrugged. “She could have eloped. She could have moved on with the gang. She could be doing some work for them. Unless there is evidence she is in trouble, I cannot take the case. And I recommend you leave the building before I have to throw you out.”

Andras opened his mouth to argue, but the officer’s face was stern. He would not budge his position, and something told Andras filing a complaint would take him nowhere. He walked off, forgetting that he hoped to apply the nitrogen solution in the bathroom. He walked to the main road and waited till a truck was coming out of Maphis. His mind was almost blank as he rode to the quarry and then he spent an hour trying to negotiate an evening shift for himself instead of the one he skipped. He had to relinquish the extra pay, but it would at least remedy his attendance records. As he sat in the worn chair of the drilling machine, his gaze habitually moved from the panel to the drill and back, checking that there was no overheating and no accidental sparks. In his mind’s eye, however, he could not dispel the picture of the drill suddenly going blooded and him finding the body of Mira, somehow buried in the mine.

More chapters:

Code of Affliction: Disruption [Chapter 05]

Code of Affliction: Disruption [Chapter 05]

Donghyun flipped the spoon on the table – the sound echoed through the empty refectory like a ghost. However, as his plant soup was cooling, his attention was stolen by what had to be another apparition on the screen of his tablet.

read more
Code of Affliction: Deceit [Chapter 04]

Code of Affliction: Deceit [Chapter 04]

She could see the LEDs flaring through the door opening but did not rush to follow. She had no desire to meet those mutants again, whoever they were. It was easy for the voice to say they were irrelevant and then use them to capture her. However, she could not be hiding here forever. In the end, if the voice wanted, they could send those creatures here.

read more
Code of Affliction: Assistant [Chapter 03]

Code of Affliction: Assistant [Chapter 03]

The very top sector of “Cheonsa” was the place where Alaya felt she could be alone and undisturbed. Although she still reached from here to the farthest corners of the station and monitored the major systems, it was her sanctuary, where she did not need to devote her processes to communication or anything above the basic maintenance.

read more
Code of Affliction: Prologue

Code of Affliction: Prologue

On June 4th, 3072, the space station “Prosperity”, belonging to the Lemming Mining and Terraforming Incorporation, held the UGN Anniversary Ball of Diversity. One of the newest seats of the Lemming Inc., “Prosperity” was the best place to commemorate the humanity’s commitment to versatility and expansion.

read more



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *