(GO TO BEGINNING)
The next day, I'm up, knockin' around in what passes for a kitchenette about this flying junkyard. My 400 square feet costs extra -- standard housing allowance for a tekkie rents a nine by twelve cabin with private, zero-G-ready bath, built-in bunk (zig-zagged with your next-door neighbor: one side gets an upper bunk, the other a lower), built-in desk (with telephone, looking nothing like yours at home), built-in dresser, built-in closet (zig-zagged with your other neighbor) and just about enough room to turn around once you bolt down a tiny fridge and a comfortable chair.
Me, I would just as soon have more space; standard-issue was a big step up from a 'Drive Engineer's berth on the Schramm but that was just about indescribable to anyone Earthside who hasn't served aboard a submarine, or so they tell me. So my 20x20 has a bunk-in-a-cubby like the standard but there's room for two walls of bookshelves (with mandatory retaining bars) and something kitchen-like on the far wall: tiny microwave, an actual sink (with zero-G lockouts and a extra tap for near-boiling water), a smallish fridge, cabinetry and countertop including a breakfast bar. No range -- there's a section of countertop where one can be swapped in but you would not believe the extra cost, especially what it does to one's insurance rates. Still, maybe someday-- Or not; what I have now suits me very well.
I was pondering the thrills and excitement of recent events (sounds better than "horror and tragedy" even though that's closer. It's the frontier. People die -- and you don't get used to it) while watching coffee drip through the Chemex (probably another item that'd drive my insurance up if I'd bothered to ask) and the microwave count down to hot oatmeal. The last especially noteworthy happening during my time on the Lupine was when one of the ship's librarians had smuggled a Slow Loris aboard and the critter had, in its methodical way, wandered off and vanished. No harm, no foul that time: the little prosimian had turned up in the break area for the Central Power Room, being tickled and fussed over by a group of electricians and fusion techs to their mutual delight. The group was blissfully unaware their new friend had poisonous elbows; the librarian was reprimanded and fined but the Captain spared the Loris after meeting it. It now resides in a well-appointed garden cage in the center of the small hardcopy portion of our library, looked after by a group of trained volunteers, including the smuggler.
No such fairytale ending this time, just a dead stranger who'd been closer to the 'Drive field array than I was comfortable thinking about. She'd had a tattoo on one forearm, a design that had looked familiar. Where had I seen that stars and rifles pattern before?
The microwave went bing! as realization dawned: Far Edge Marines. It's not something seen much this side of the nebulous intersection between the Earthside sphere of influence and the advanced but elusive Far Edge, but there's trade and contact at settled planets throughout that overlap. In my second and third years on Lupine, the ship had made the long swing out as far as La-a ("La-DASH-a" and don't ask; there's no parsing the planetary naming process at the Far Edge) and back, and F. E. Mil/Space (it's just our side calls 'em "Marines") had been recruiting heavily; the logo and their motto ("Peace Through Strength") had been all over. Our mystery corpse had been a Space Marine! --Or, less likely, involved with one. It's not a mark to bear lightly.
Oatmeal and coffee forgotten, I went to the phone and called Sherriff Mike's office. Rang right through to him; I babbled my clever observation.
"And y'think I might've missed that?" he replied.
I stammered something, caught up in belated wit. Mike's ex-USSF and second-generation at that; in his office on the bulkhead opposite his desk there's a large photo poster of the ruins of the never-finished Lunar missile base the Far Edgers took off from and his computer desktop image is the ice plain on Io where the only real battle between USSF and FE troops was fought, inconclusively for all but the fallen. The latter group included Mike Senior.
I managed, "But-- What's a Space Marine doing on the Lupine?"
"There's the question, Nancy Drew. Maybe I should give you a hand with the Stardrives?"
"...I had that coming, Mike. Okay."
"I know y'want to help. It's my headache."
(TO BE CONTINUED)
6 months ago