Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Story Continues...

Samsara Galaxy Chronicles
By A. A. Wolfner

Chapter 1
Standard Galactic Date: Mar of Vidi 43, 1908 A.E.
I just stood there looking up at these flying things. ‘What are they called now?’ I thought. ‘O, yes. Birds.’
“Can YOU please move of the exit plate form?” Two persona said to me as they pushed me aside so that they could exit the their four-seat shuttle. As the men hurry off to their jobs, one remarked under his breath, “Off Worlders.”
I did not mind and returned my attention back to the flight of birds, something I have not seen for over ten tornoses. It did draw my attention away from gawking toward the left side of the walkway at the oldest of all the Temples of Vidi. “Ack!” I quickly covered my eyes. I lost the birds in the brightness of Vidi, a reminder not to look directly into the open-sky filled with Vidlight.
I tried to re-focus on my destination as a security camera tracked my approach down the Boulevard leading to the restored Capital Plaza. I still found it impossible to resist peering at the sights like the offworlder I was. The rich array of buildings, the star of Vidi, the extra pull of gravity and the green foliage were nothing like the stark domed environment where I had been working before the Azazel call came.
A second set of cameras picked me up as I made the left turn, bypassed the ornate Palace of Ivory Justice, and walked toward the Quadrangle of the Grand March. About halfway into the Plaza Quadrangle, I strode into the outer offices of the moderate-sized complex lorded over by the new Prefecture of Police.
Large bulletproof doors granted me entrance to the inner lobby. I headed for the information desk, where staff and maintenance personae were grunting their way through a time-consuming renovation. The whole place smelled of new paint and unwrapped furniture. One of the two officers staffing the post was trying to get the communication system to work properly. The persona was deeply involved with two computer technicians. The other officer, however, diligently looked up and smiled.
“Can I help you?”
“I hope so. Officer Bronko Drakon of the Federal Ring System, Planet Vidi 3! I received orders to report to persona Captain Dupont. Is the Captain in?” I glanced quickly at the officer’s nametag. Hirz first name was Nancy.
“I thought you looked like an off-worlder. I would page hir, but you can see that our COM system is not working yet.” The other officer gave a soured smile. “I’ll show you where the Captain is setting up hirz desk,” it continued. “Walk this way.”
As the young-looking femelle walked away, I tried to ignore the fact that hirz persona cut a very nice figure in the Federal police uniform. That is one reason I did not want this assignment. This overcrowded World of Vidi required its fixed population to accept calculated doses of anti-sex inhibitors on the first of each mar. The disturbing intent was to quash normal interest in the obvious differences between masle and femelle.
Perhaps those drugs had already taken their toll on the young officer walking in front of me, because it was “all business” as the persona led me up to the third floor. We entered a room that again smelled of new paint and unwrapped furniture. In the middle of the pile of just-delivered, desks and computers stood Captain Henri Dupont. The persona had hirz back to me, but I would have known that body frame anywhere, uniformed or not. The persona was directing the unpacking of the latest delivery. Before my new friend Nancy could speak, I spoke up. “Captain Dupont, Sir. Officer Bronko Drakon reporting as ordered, SIR!”
The hulking persona turned with unexpected agility. “Bronko! You finally made it.” Captain Dupont’s round, ruddy face and twinkling blue eyes had grown a mustache to frame hirz big toothy smile.
“Yes, I got in on the Planetary Express yestervegenyx. Rented a room and now I am here. So what’s so important that you had to get my nice, comfortable off-world Police Base to assign me here for an entire star-orbit of the World of Vidi?” I pointed at some large unpacked boxes. “Is this it? Am I here to move furniture?”
The captain raised hirz hands. “No, no – with the establishment of the United Planets of Vidi, the new Government established this Federal Police Force six mars ago. I’ve won the toss and am now its first head, and need experienced officers to help us establish a credible agency. Right now, beside myself, I have only two other officers. One you have in tow. Meet Officer N. Leperrie, Jr. I hope Officer J. Rodeberrier is downstairs getting the communication system functional. Both are right out of training. Now…”
“By the Messengers, hold it right there. I told you! I did not want to be part of any new federal police organization, and yet you requested that they push me out and dump me here. How…”
Henri put up hirz hand. “Azazel, one millitick here, Officer Drakon! I requested that they send me one experienced officer from each Colonial Administration District and your superiors...” Henri tapped the top of my stomach because hirz persona could not reach my chest, “…selected you – not me! Granted, I wasn’t unhappy when they chose you, but I had respected your wishes – I didn’t ask for you – not in so many words. So if you have a problem, talk to them, Officer Drakon. But right now, I have your Azazel butt for one standard galactic tornos! Any questions?” Captain Henri Dupont stood there looking up at me, lips shut tight and hands firmly on hirz hips.
I looked at the small rock-like masle from the heavy-gravity planet, Horbra, and recognized that I was facing the most stubborn of all the much-talked-about “immovable objects” of the Superverse. I let myself release a heavy sigh, and stuck out my hand. “I am glad to come aboard, sir. I will enjoy ever centitick of time that I'm here. Where is my desk? When are the other experienced officers arriving?”
“I’m glad you feel that way, Officer,” Henri said. “We shall get along well, Bronko. It will not be as tedious as you think.” After a pause meant to change the subject, it added, “Your desk is in that pile over there. For the others, they should be arriving as we speak; they are just not here – right now.” The persona continued to re-focus hirz thoughts. “Nancy, get me the Chirlog P. D’odgerria files.”
“Sir – that is my case,” Nancy insisted.
Henri rolled hirz eyes. “Yes, it is. I’d like you to meet your new senior partner. Officer Drakon is now in charge of this case. Learn from hir, and live a long life. D’odegerria would have no Azazel doubts about having you eliminated, nor would hirz friends. This case is uncomplicated, but too dangerous for a rookie officer.”
I had a couple of the movers set up my desk. Within the Tick, a computer technician began setting up my computer at the same time Officer Nancy Leperrie, Jr. was dropping D’odgerria’s file on my desk. It left, presumably to return to hirz station at the front desk and resume the grunt work with paint and broom. It offered neither words of good-bye nor expressions of good wishes. That was just fine with me. I did not really want to train any space-dust-behind-the-ear rookies – even those ears.
Putting the D’odgerria file in the center of my desk, I got some office supplies from one of the other packing boxes. After trying out several chairs, I found one willing to conform to my 2.05 metrons frame. Then I pulled some personal items from a box. Resigned to a long tour at my new station, I set up a picture cube of my civ-contract mate with her six kids. I then kicked up my feet and started to read D’odgerria’s file.
Escaped convict Chirlog P. D’odgerria’s file read like a What’s Who of the criminal world. M. D’odgerria’s partner was one M. Ham Utrillo, who had set things up to allow D’odgerria to break out of prison. Utrillo was influential in political and criminal circles. The persona was legendary even in my dear, far-off Federal Ring System of Planet Vidi 3, having successfully defied the prosecutor of the Planet of Vidi Colonial Administration. The accomplishment was especially noteworthy, since at that time the military and judicial arms of the new government of the United Planets of Vidi both supported the PVCA. I had heard that one whisper from Utrillo was enough to make lower-grade law officers shake in their spacesuits. The persona obviously had the money and focus necessary to arrange the escape. Now it would be our turn; that is, my turn, to get the government’s hands back on D’odgerria’s Tamanic viscera.
While I swore over the file, movers set up my partner’s desk – too close to mine, I noted. Officer Leperrie returned and sat down, waiting for me to finish grumbling.
“Well, Officer Drakon, and why did you think that I could not handle this case?”
“Please, Nancy, let’s start out better. First, call me Bronko. Second, I didn’t ask to be your partner, nor did I ask to take your case. Our captain insists that we should work together on this, so let’s just get it done.”
“Sorry, am I sounding like a little kid?” Nancy’s tone was a mixture of contrite youth and petulant victim.
“It’s understandable,” I said, without denying hirz premise. “Now, how do you read this case?”
Nancy ignored my lapse of protocol in not offering the requisite denial of hirz childishness. It dropped the subject in favor of professionalism. “Well, M. D’odgerria was a minor employee, a dispatcher, for the Space Authority of Vidi.
“One – it is alleged that M. D’odgerria committed perjury when the persona testified that persona D’odgerria had not known one of the brightest, least scrupulous lawyers of the planet, and that persona D’odgerria had not passed information on schedules and contents of freighters traveling to the listed star systems’ destinations around the Empire.
“The allegedly stolen information had allegedly allowed M. Utrillo to contact hirz criminal friends, so that they could space-jack the cargo and murder the crews of the spaceships.”
Nancy, looking up from notes inscribed on a tightly gripped PER, frowned at the simplicity of the case. “It’s a plain case of piracy and conspiracy. If D’odgerria had testified to knowing M. Utrillo, and to passing along that hot information, then Utrillo faced a sure conviction for stealing and murder. It’s not too late to try to extract that testimony again. More important, the powers above us are hoping M. Utrillo will cut a deal once we grab D’odgerria, and lead us to others high in the government, as well as to the remainder of hirz pirate band.” Nancy sighed at my lack of response, and looked back at the PER to scroll hirz voice-burbled notes. Hirz expression resumed the blank eyed glare of a dispassionate bureaucrat as it continued the litany from the PER.
“Two – it is alleged that D’odgerria escaped from prison with M. Utrillo’s help.
“Three, based on – my investigations, it is reported that the persona left M. Utrillo’s protection and is now on the jog somewhere on the World of Vidi.
“Four – it seems that M. Utrillo is also looking for D’odgerria.
“Fifth,” it smiled, “now Utrillo’s possibly fighting for hirz own life. The only masle between hir and the cold cells of space in Blackwell's meteorite prison is old Chirlog F. D’odgerria – and Utrillo might prefer C. F. to be dead rather than old.”
Nancy lay down hirz Personal Electronic Recorder and looked at me as though the persona had already established a successful conclusion to the case.
“Oh yes, sixth,” it added through an annoying silence, “M. Utrillo has called into play every resource the persona has gathered during forty tornoses of unscrupulous practice. And I’ve been searching in M. D’odgerria’s old neighborhood, and in every cheap hotel in the city, but nobody has found hir yet.
“Or, Bronko, do you believe, like some of the personae in the field seem to want to believe, that M. Utrillo has eliminated hir?”
“No. Not yet.”
“Oh? Why not, as they say?”
“Because M. Utrillo did not have hir killed in detention. They got hir out. They could have just as easily had hir killed by one of the LOes on M. Utrillo’s payroll. The persona has something and they want it; they were keeping hir alive to get it. That would explain why, when the persona had the opportunity to get away from M. Utrillo, the persona disappeared. Whatever M. D’odgerria has, I’d bet it’s become hirz life insurance policy, not just hirz ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ chip.”
“What do you think it is? And where is M. D’odgerria – boss?”
I ignored hirz cynical attempt to rile me. “I don’t know what the insurance policy is, Nancy, but it has something to do with these piracies. Now, where is M. D’odgerria – hnmnmnm – For one thing, I don’t think the persona is on this planet anymore, like everyone seems to believe.”
Nancy looked at my eyes, squinting hirz doubt. In a few seconds, though, hirz expression changed as the persona thought it through for hirzself. “So you think…?”
“Well, look,” I instructed, without showing any emotional response to hirz lurking respect. “The persona was a dispatcher for the port authority. We are in the rocket port for the interplanetary spaceport of the Planet of Vidi. I bet our jogging persona hopped a freighter out of here, and is now about halfway to the interstellar spaceport. Let’s start checking the manifest of the departing ships and see if anyone has an extra passenger.”
Nancy actually began to look enthusiastic. “Roger that,” Nancy blurted. “Let’s see if the computers are working.”
I watched in wonderment as ten femelle fingers flew with graceful fury across the sensitive touch pad. A moment later, Nancy looked up from hirz screen: “Sorry, no last-minute individuals or crewmembers heading for the interstellar spaceport. There were a couple of small group bookings, and several bookings to other Colonial Districts.”
“Could be Utrillo’s people looking for our masle. Better also search all the freighters and passenger ships leaving for any of those other Colonial Districts.”
Hirz fingers flew over the touch pad again. “No, just doubles and triples.”
“Did you check for a case where a double was booked but only a single got onboard?”
“Yes, and I checked out the gender of all the bookings, too.” Nancy’s fingers flew across the keypad as before. “Hold the oxygen. A spacer reported sick for the energy run to Lava, and a replacement named Manly Airregdod was at the Spacer Guild waiting for an open flight. That ship, EC-201, is slated to return in about three vegenyxes. I guess we need to wait for the ship to return – I…we might have found our masle.”
“Why would the persona go through an interplanetary spaceport to just come back here? What ships are slated to pick up energy from Lava, and from where?”
“There is one ship, EC-407, that is slated to leave during the same vegenyx as EC-201 arrives. They miss each other by two ticks. But there should be another arrival the next vegenyx, with a crossover of six ticks. Both ships will return to their points of origin, and neither comes from the Planet of Vidi.”
“Officer, do you want to go on a little trip?”
“Yes! But do I get to pick which spaceship to meet?”
“Hnmnmnm…Yes.” I had hoped it would, and I thought I knew which it would be.
“Good – I take the EC-316, the ship that is expecting a six-tick crossover with EC-201. It’s traveling to Green Vidi.” Nancy sat there with a big “gotcha” smile.
I held my own smile in abeyance, although it was hard to do. EC-316 was a soft and very cold assignment, but I doubted that it would be the right lead.
“Hnmnmnm – Then I get the EC-407. I see it’s from the Gas Giant, Horbra. Captain Dupont’s birth world…ah, well. For now, I had better start working out, to compensate for the gravity of these Azazel hi-grav worlds. Sorry for my Silvamite language.”
Nancy smiled. “That’s all right.”
Within two ticks, I had packed. I took on the appearance of my alter-ego, a commercial traveler with a soft and gentle voice for selling Vidi’s Elder tea, always blushing when a femelle came into the room, and bashful to the point of self-effacement. With the help of FPF and my past service, it was routine for me to get the proper credentials and a ticket to Horbra. I wondered if Officer Leperrie would find it just as simple to catch hirz ship to Green Vidi. Just in case I was wrong, I arranged to have the Space Guard waiting with a cruiser or cutter near the two planets to give assistance.
The Energy Carrier 407 would arrive 66 ticks ahead of me at the Sharboor spaceport if the schedules still meant anything. The pirates had caused some managers to issue false schedules. The ploy never helped, of course. I worried about that short two-vegenyxes window, but depended on the authorities to do their part in the search. I had FPF ask local authorities on Horbra to question the crew of EC-407 and hold crewmember Manly Airregdod, Chirlog D’odgerria, and any other exchanged or unlisted crewmember, whether I arrived there with them or not.
My organization penchant paid off. In fact, while still in route to the Horbra spaceport I got a merchant coded space-gram from Henri Dupont:
No extra crewmembers, or exchange of crewmember, or no crewmember named Manly Airregdod or Chirlog D’odgerria on the EC-407, the same for EC-316
The EC-201 has returned
Minus one crewmember – Manly Airregdod failed to report for departure
Maintenance Section head is one mad Azazel; had to pull double shifts
Lava spaceport authorities looking for hir since the persona was reported missing – last update: still missing
Last reported camera sighting – Manly was talking to crewmembers of the delayed EC-407 –Interesting footnote, Lava PA got an egram from the Vidi PA to hold the EC-407 until further orders but could not confirm the order, so let EC continue on it way.
I have asked Green Vidi and Horbra’s Police to look for Chirlog D’odgerria –Also sent Chirlog’s DNA profile to them.
Horbra’s Police have already reported back, no Chirlog D’odgerria— I don’t trust them
Have not told them you are on your way there
Be careful
Captain Henri Dupont
I signaled back in merchant code:
Message understood. Needed at the Horbra Aeropolis Zephyr: Anyone who can give 1) whereabouts of all crewmembers 2) schedule of all out-going ships, and 3) their subsequent silence. PA should search EC-407 for signs of any unauthorized visitors.
About 51 ticks before arrival at the port, I got the answer to my questions:
Port Authority has searched EC-407 — acting Captain failed to report that they picked up an extra crewmember at Lava port
Found evidence of seven people aboard – Only six personae in the crew
Port Authorities, no Police involvement, looking at surveillance discs for the extra persona
Crew is already at the spacer inn, called Free-Fall
Your port authority contact is M. Bevingira Bigiran; I worked with hirz before
It can keep hirz mouth shut
I told hirz you are on your way with no ETA
May Vidi hold your hand
Captain Henri Dupont
The trip to Gas Giant Horbra being an interplanetary trip, it took about three mars, but at least light-speed communication had been possible as the ship lumbered on at sub-light velocity. I arrived at Sharboor about 22.45 ticks after the EC. Commercial transports and the Vidi System Argosy Space Command both have docking facilities at the busy strategic spaceport. The complex had also recently home to the reorganized government’s 2nd Astrine Brigade. The port, like most spaceports, smelled of stale frozen water and once-too-often-used air, something like an old refrigerator. I would like to have stayed and seen the public hydroponic flower and vegetable gardens, famous throughout the star-system, but I immediately took the shuttle from Sharboor spaceport to Zephyr Aeropolis.
Because of the over abundance of oxygen in Horbra’s atmosphere, Zephyr smelled clean and fresh like the cities on the World of Vidi. It smelled nothing like a Belt asteroid domed fuel depot, although Zephyr and seven other large floating cities in Horbra’s Gas Giant planetary atmosphere supplied most of the Argon used for interplanetary flights in this star system. The planet also supplied Methane, Methanol, Carbon dioxide, Oxygen, Hydrogen, and Nitrogen for the other Colonials and that is why EC stops here to exchange its cargo of Methanol and organics for Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen; cannot run an advance society without basic energy supply of Methanol – a Methanol based economy. After clearing customs and the medical exam, cannot be too careful about transporting alien germs. I hopped into an automated electro cab and went straight to the spacer inn, Free Fall, on St. Pierre Avenue next to the old shopping district. The desk clerk assured me that Room 1475 was germ free with plenty of fresh re-cycled air. I settled in, by throwing my bags on the bed and falling into a well-engineered self-adjusting chair. I had a funny feeling that D’odgerria was somewhere in the hotel – which room, I could not guess. My funny feelings have been wrong before, so I ignored the funny feeling and pondered how to find my quarry without involving the corruptible local police.
I soon decided to visit the restaurant and drown my frustration in some off-world exotica from the dessert menu. An ephone call to make an appointment with M. Bevingira Bigiran of the Horbra Port Authority supplied my excuse for sitting a while in the dining room. Waiting for confirmation of the appointment cost an appropriately inexpensive three-layer yeast sandwich from the special “Free Fall Early-Burner Menu.” The sandwich disappeared quickly, for which I was thankful, so I still had a tick to kill before my confirmed meeting. I sat and watched visitors come and go as my thoughts came and went as to how to locate D’odgerria. The problem took my mind off the leathery yeast meat and diverted my attention from a dessert tray of fresh sylvestris. I had not eaten a sylvestris for more tornoses than I could remember, but the price was an absurd 150 crystals; I was fortunate to be distracted from the temptation.
At the appointed time, I arrived at the Horbra’s Port Authority offices located on Bertrand Blvd.
“M. B. Bigiran?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“My name is Officer Bronko Drakon. Captain Dupont told me to contact you.”
“Yes, I have been informed that you were coming. Please have a sit. But first, can I see some ID. I’m amazed that you are here so soon,” M. Bevingira Bigiran said.
“Yes.” I tried to fit my tall, skinny frame into a chair made for someone much closer to 1.3 metrons tall, and much wider as well. I took out my new FPF badge and conformational code generator and Bevingira took out hirz badge and conformational code generator. I placed my badge in the reader along with the code generator. M. Bigiran did the same, and then both of us put our fingers in the “Read” slots. Within five milliticks, the green “GO” light went on.
M. Bevingira Bigiran started speaking as soon as it saw the green signal. “Well, Officer Drakon, I don’t know how much I can add that I haven’t already told the local authorities. So what else do you need?”
“Actually, I want to start from the beginning. I’d like to hear firsthand accounts, not someone’s interpretation, as to how this persona might have jumped ship.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Bigiran said. “First, I won’t exactly call it, ‘jumping ship,’ but you could call it that if you like. Secondly, there is nothing much to tell. When the EC-407 came in, it declared that it picked up a free spacer on Lava to replace one of its sick crewmembers. One crewmember had gravity poisoning and the new crewmember had offered to take hirz place until the other felt better. The sick crewmember got better and finished out hirz tour of duty. Then, according to the logs, this new crewmember, a M. Manly Airregdod, also become sick with gravity poisoning. Call it coincidence, but going from a weightless environment to any gravity field, or vice-versa, can do that to personae...”
“Yes, I know; I’m feeling the effects of Horbra’s heavier gravity pull myself and I going to need to get out of here in about a sava.”
Bevingira continued after granting me an all-knowing smile. “When EC-407 arrived, M. Viditian Gauss radioed the Master Mate, to request permission for hir and M. Airregdod to enter PA Spacer Hospital #1 due to an illness that had kept them from their duties. The short-handed Master Mate was busy unloading cargo and told them to go on without escort; it had no time to follow normal medical procedures. They checked in to the hospital that very vegenyx. M. Airregdod is in treatment for gravity poisoning and should be there for about a sava. They released V. Gauss after a checkup, cleared the EC and the hospital from liability for any future health problems on world. That persona is now at the spacer inn.” M. Bigiran leaned over hirz ecom unit in search of a message. “I’m trying to contact the Lava Port Authorities to inform them we found their missing spacer at the hospital. Any other questions?”
I sat there for moment or two to collect my thoughts and find another place for my legs. “Hnmnmnm – O yes, to make my report complete – how do you spell the name given by the sick spacer they released from the hospital?
“Let me look that up. Yes, that’s V- I- D- I- T- I- A- N, last name G- A- U- S- S. I see, as I said, that the persona is still staying at the spacer inn. Hey, are you not staying there also?”
“Well, good. This M. V. Gauss is slated to leave for the Belt on the next gas tanker. Could you give hirz order stick to hir?” M. Bigiran said.
“I don’t see why not. Do you know what room the persona is in?”
“No, but the desk clerk does. Just give the order box to the clerk and the clerk will find hir. Standard practice for an inn,” M. Bigiran said.
“Yes, I understand. So, I guess this is where I return to my room and deliver your mail for you. I'll try to see M. Airregdod in the morning. Thank you for your help.” With that, I got up to leave.
“M. Drakon, you need to wait while I encode M. V. Gauss’s shipping orders stick,” Bigiran said.
“Ah, yes. Sometimes I leave behind my space helmet if it’s not attached to my persona.”
M. Bigiran granted me a very weak smile and got up to get the Encoded stick from the computer in the next room. It was shorter then most femelle Horbraling, maybe one metron plus some heels, but, also like most Horbraling, it looked like an overweight wrestler without any extra fat. Hirz leaving and my standing gave me opportunity to lean over and look at hirz ecom screen. The gas tanker was called the Ellen. It carried a load of Argon-pulse-engine-rocket-fuel to the rock belt.
With bureaucratic treasures in hand, I made a neutrino-line over to the ticket booth and bought passage on the gas tanker Ellen as M. Drakon, a seller of Vidi’s Elder tea. Then I went to the hotel. Along the way, I purchased some tape to double seal M. V. Gauss’ official mailing box carrying hirz PA spacer assignment stick.
As I walked up to the front desk at the inn, the mail-robot had just finished dropping off the latest delivery. I glanced casually over a number of egrams, letters, and small packages in a rack. When the clerk turned hirz back, I placed the shipping order for M. V. Gauss, unobserved, into the mail rack. It was time to find a comfortable chair in the lobby that would give me a clear view of the spacers’ mail slots.
Like all spacer inns, the Free Fall catered to spacers by providing sleeping rooms for them and storage areas for their belongings. They also provided a mailing address in port. The dutiful clerk took up the mail and placed each piece in its individual mail slot. My package went into mail slot 539.
The inn was busy. A stream of personae were depositing their lock-cards and receiving their mail. However, I did not have long to wait before a bearded spacer came down and asked for hirz. The clerk removed M. V. Gauss’s orders from slot 539 and handed the package to the bearded spacer. I flipped open my personal com-unit and snapped a quiet picture of the spacer. My simple scheme had worked. I now had a room number and a face. The face might have been either V. Gauss or D’odgerria – that was what I now needed to find out.
The bearded spacer ripped at the box, mauling the sticky tape I had used to wrap the package. As it left, the persona threw fragments of tape and battered scraps of box into the trash. I walked over to the trash and threw my recyclable news-rag away with a disinterested glance at the contents of the can. I then shook my head as though I had made a mistake, and retrieved the news-rag – along with fragments of tape and torn box before the compacting and recycling of the trash. I went back to my room and soon transmitted the pictures, and hirz fingerprints, to headquarters. I also found some hand hair and dry skin cells stuck to the tape. I had a portable DNA scanner that could give me a basic analysis transmittable to the lab. I made contact with the Space Guard and uploaded my information.
I figured the reply would take five to six ticks, so I went to the fifth floor to inspect the corridor and find the door marked “539” in metallic markings typical of the look of a space inn. My personal com-unit housed a few extra features not found on the models you bought by echarging from your room at the inn. It had, in particular, a chem-sniffer and a super-sensitive listening bug. I placed the earbug in my ear and clipped the unit inside my utility pocket. As I walked the corridor to room 539, I would be able hear any bits and pieces of conversations and detect masle or femelle bodies, the usual random casual-use substances, and the sweaty exudates from all those private therapeutic or intimate exercises. As I passed room 538, the lock turned inside the room, and something told me to pay attention to my target’s neighbor. I stepped down the corridor to room 542, grabbed my com-unit from its clip, and pushed the finger pad that released the wide-angle lens, all in one practiced step, yank, and twirl-about motion.
A heavyset masle appeared from 538. It widened one eye, surprised but unmoved by my presence in the hallway. Hirz mouth twisted into one final, subtle sneer at my awkward fumbling with the door to room 542. It did not see the com-unit. It shut the door behind hir and locked it without any comment. Before the persona closed hirz door, my COM sent a tone to my earbug indicting that there was some kind of sound-sight-smell device protecting hirz room.

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