The Mississippi Company
by Mark Kertzman
“Have you seen this person?”
The ticket agent peered at the little picture in the phone’s screen. It wasn’t a very flattering picture, but driver’s license photos rarely were. She took the phone from Jon’s hand, holding it up to the light. However, the face on the screen was still dark, brown-skinned and black-haired.
“No, I don’t know.” The agent shook her head, causing her braided black hair to whip back and forth. She absently brushed it out of her way, adding, “I can’t really be sure.”
Jon picked up on her reluctance. Motioning for the phone, he took it back from the uniformed agent.
“But somebody has come up here from Earth; somebody who looks like that.”
The slim Oriental woman shrugged, causing her to drift a bit. She checked her motion almost automatically with a gentle touch on one of the station’s walls as she answered, “There was an Indian man, yes.”
“Can you describe him?” Jon asked.
“Well, I think he was tall, and slim. Very well dressed. He looked rich.”
“Why do you say that?”
The woman shrugged. “Well, what kind of Indian man could afford the flight up to orbit?”
Jon conceded the point with a nod. “Do you think he is still here?”
“Oh, no,” she replied.
“How do you know?”
This time, she chuckled at the memory. “Oh, he was really sick. Couldn’t take zero-g at all. He couldn’t wait to get off this station. He was on the next intra-orbital shuttle out of here.”
“Yeah? Where did he go?” Jon tried to make it sound conversational, but he couldn’t quite keep the eagerness out of his voice.
She answered immediately. “To L-five. New Kowloon.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, I took his ticket, didn’t I?”
Once again, Jon had to concede to her. “Thanks. You’ve been very helpful.
He floated away, down the square corridor. At the next junction, he turned and almost automatically dug out his phone, punching for his office.
“Dang. No service.” he muttered.
He was annoyed that he actually had to float through the corridors to the hotel’s tiny reception desk. Once there, he sent a brief e-mail to Doug. It was little more than a report on where he was headed next, sent through the station’s regular communications channels. He coded it Confidential U.N. Business, just in case, but he didn’t think that was going to make any difference.
Another float took him down several more corridors to the tiny alcove marked “U.N. Security”. The young and capable-looking Oriental man perched there sported a slim-fitting blue uniform and straight black hair covered in a peaked blue cap. He appraised Jon’s rumpled suit with a friendly but guarded expression.
“Can I help you?” he asked Jon.
Jon didn’t reply for a moment. He was struggling to extract his wallet from his pocket, then a card from has wallet. All the struggling caused his body to tilt and rotate in the lack of gravity.
Finally, Jon steadied himself with an outstretched arm, and handed the little blue and white holocard to the security officer. “Do you know what that is?”
The security man looked intently at the card, then hard into Jon’s face. “Yes, sir,” he replied crisply.
“Good.” Jon took his identification card back. “I need a non-lethal, to be signed out on a UNASLED authorization.”
“Yes, sir.” The security man replied again. He turned towards a little locker, opening it to reveal a small rack of matte-black plastic objects.
“I’m sure you know, sir, that only non-lethals are legally allowed in space.” the security man said more conversationally.
“What do you do when lethals come up?” Jon asked dryly.
The security man just gave him a sarcastic look in reply.
“Forget I asked. I don’t want to know.”
The security man proffered a bulky plastic handgun, handing it to Jon. “A Sig-Sauer E-Fifty electric pistol. It fires low-velocity electric darts, guaranteed not to penetrate ship or station hull walls.”
He showed Jon a thick plastic clip, filled with stubby little dart shapes. “Each dart has a fluxed ion battery. On impact, it discharges a twenty-thousand volt shock. That’ll bring down just about anyone, provided you hit flesh.”
“What if I don’t hit flesh?”
“Then fire again.”
Jon hefted the unaccustomed heavy weight.
“You know,” he continued conversationally, “I hate guns. My fellow investigator told me to sign one out, though.”
The security man took the pistol back, putting it in a belt holster with an extra clip.
“If you hate guns, then this is the one for you. You can’t kill anyone with it.” The security man handed Jon the little package. “Sign here, please.”
“Thanks.” Jon took the pistol. “This is just a precaution,” he added, almost as if to convince himself. “I’m sure I won’t need it.”
To be continued...
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Kertzman