The drunk guy brandished a bottle that had once contained something imported and alcoholic. He looked more confused than belligerent, but he was big enough to potentially be a problem, and anyhow patrons had complained that he was bothering them.
Eric went the one way, and the two bouncers went the other. “Okay dude,” he said, quietly. “Let’s cut that stuff out, shall we?”
The guy muttered something, and waved the bottle back and forth a few times like a club.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“That is such a cliche,” Eric said. “Is that what you want to be? The guy in the movies that everyone is hoping will be kay-oh’ed? Come on. Quit hassling people. Just cut it out. Go for a walk and sober up or something.”
He could tell that it just wasn’t sinking in. The guy was just too wasted, and eventually somebody was going to get hurt.
He flicked two fingers on his hand downwards. The bouncers knew exactly what he meant. They came up quietly behind the guy, and each of them grabbed one arm and one leg. Up he went, briefly, and then gently right down to the floor with his arms pinned solidly behind him.
Eric sauntered forwards and completed the maneuver with a aid of a regulation pair of handcuffs.
Nice and simple.
“One of you guys want to help me haul him to the lockup to sober up?” he asked the bouncers. “I don’t think he can walk unassisted at this point, and he looks heavy. My back isn’t up to this stuff any more.”
Meanwhile, the drunk guy cussed from his reduced vantage point on the concrete floor.
“I’m getting too old for this nonsense,” he thought. Back on Earth, nightclub duty was for kids new to the force. Up here, with no real crime worth talking about, and only semi-official status, the tiny police force dealt mainly with drunks, mediating the occasional domestic dispute, or landing a partially-uniformed hand in a jam.
“How do you deal with this every night?” he asked. “I was too old for this the day I was born.”
“Its good exercise. You should work out more, or the low gee is going to waste you away completely.”
He shrugged. Whatever.
A few minutes later, they half dragged the guy into the lockup.
“All of the cells are empty. Let’s just put him in there, if you don’t mind. He can sleep it off, and I’ll give him a pain killer and the usual canned lecture in the morning.”
His cell rang. “Eric speaking.”
“Hey Eric. Got a tricky situation here.”
Frank. “Here comes politics,” he thought.
“What’s the matter Frank?”
“Some idiot tourist talked one of the geological teams into a back country rover tour. Got themselves stuck in some gully a couple of hours out.”
“So call a tow truck.” Eric replied.
The statement was sarcastic, as both of them knew. There were few resources for search and rescue on Mars, and a lot of terrain to cover. It was generally understood that if somebody went off road, they were responsible for their own safety.
“She’s politically connected. And you’re not doing anything you care to be doing anyhow.”
“This where I give you the speech about retirement and idiotic hero policemen?” Eric said.
“Yeah. I’m on my way.”
Despite the hour, Frank didn’t look like he had been pulled from bed. They stood next to a smallish off road rover that had been pulled from somewhere in the cavernous garage up to the outside airlock. The rover had a large roof-mounted array of spotlights for night driving.
“All right. What’s the story?” Eric asked.
“We’ve been in regular radio contact with them. No injuries or anything like that. From the sound of things, the guy driving just got distracted for a second, and drove into a small hole of some kind. Damaged a wheel or axle.”
“I still don’t understand why you don’t send one of the maintenance crew. They can do a temporary repair at the same time. This way somebody is going to need to make a second trip, because I sure am not going to be towing one of those big Mars science rigs back with a broken axle.”
“Maintenance is maxed out these days.”
“And by implication I’m sitting around doing nada?”
“Don’t be so touchy.” Frank slapped him companionably on the shoulder. “Its just a quick jaunt. Run out there, grab some breakfast, and haul the idiots back to town.”
Shae had picked up the tourist from his hotel. His name was Noah.
From the description at the tourism office, she had assumed some kind of camera-toting, Hawaiian-shirt wearing, ultra-high-net-worth loudmouth, but the guy wasn’t as expected at all. He had his own environment suit, for one thing, and he was some kind of architect or civil planner. Well spoken too, and funny, and not much older than her. He did have a strong Texan accent though.
They did the standard two hour walking tour of the colony itself, and then headed for the garage to take a gander from outside.
“You don’t approve?” she asked.
“Well you have the science fiction thing going for you, and I can’t fault the coloring of the mars-crete.”
“But.” he paused for a moment before continuing.
“But the proportions are all wrong, and seriously whose idea was the whole neo-revival-brutalism thing anyhow?”
“You think it should look better.”
“Yes. Its a colony on Mars for goodness sakes. It should look ethereal.”
They stood at the top of a rise, overlooking the colony from the voluminous, expansive, overarching distance of possibly half a kilometer. Most of the colony could be seen.
“At least it is compact and walkable,” he finally added.
“Alas. Damned with faint praise,” she replied, putting in the last word.
They headed back to the rover.
“Dinner?” he asked, as they headed back.
The drive was as slow as he had expected. The spotlights and large tires helped, but he still had to pick his way around boulders, and gently bounce across smaller gullies. Two hours later he arrived at their location.
The rover was upright, and only on a slight slant. He could see thought that one of the wheels was down in some kind of dip, and that it was no longer aligned correctly.
Somebody waved from the driver’s compartment. He parked, pulled on the helmet of his environment suit, and headed on over.
The geologist let him in via the airlock.
“Geoff,” he said, taking Eric’s helmet from him. “I appreciate your coming out in the middle of the night like this. You’re Eric, right?”
“Yeah. You got coffee?”
“And food. I figure you probably want to catch some shut eye as well?”
They headed back to the living area. The tourist was seated in the dining area, next to the small kitchenette. She was around Eric’s age, perhaps a few years younger. Looked confident.
“Vicky, Eric. He’s come to rescue us,” said Geoff, shoving a bar of some kind in his mouth, and grabbing a pot of coffee and a mug for Eric.
“My hero,” she said.
“Sorry,” she said. “Foot in mouth. I guess you get that a lot.”
The cabin of the rover was surprisingly comfortable. The three of them sat in a dining nook next to the kitchen area.
“Yesterday I told some drunk fool that he was acting like a cliche,” he said.
He pondered his own statement for a moment or two. “Maybe I am a bloody archetype.”
“I see,” was all she said. She didn’t emote at all, but he sensed that she was amused.
“What do you do in your spare time?” she asked, after a few moments.
The geologist, Geoff, got up from his seat across from them. “Get a room,” he said, and headed forward to the cockpit with his coffee mug in hand.
“He always like that?” Eric asked.
“No idea. Just met him yesterday.
Perhaps one day Mars would have great restaurants. Dinner, in this context consisted of seats on opposite sides of a long table in a diner.
“You’re not just here as a tourist,” Shae said between mouthfuls of something spicy and vegetarian.
“Perceptive of you,” he said. “Mars is growing…”.
“Not on this diet,” she interjected.
“Tsk. Think of the gravity of the situation.”
“Sorry, you started. Anyhow where was I? Yeah, the population is growing like crazy, and the infrastructure was designed without thinking a few steps ahead.”
“And you think you can help.”
“At yer service, ma’am,” he bowed slightly from his seat. “Seriously though, I’ve been pitching the mayor on a detailed long term plan.”
“You understand that she doesn’t have real budgetary power?” she asked.
“Yes. The folks back on Earth listen to her though. I’m hoping to get through to them from this end.”
“Costly, mostly. Worth the outlay if it works though.”
“Nice. I’d love to see what you have in mind.”
“Doing a small demo tomorrow. Why don’t you come take a look?”
“I shall indeed.”
“A live band. How romantic.”
“You want sophisticated, I suggest New York City,” Eric said.
“I just hope there isn’t a brawl,” Vicky said, looking around.
“Yeah. I’m not supposed to be on duty tonight.”
“I forgot about that somehow.”
“What, I don’t look like a cop?”
“I’ve met all kinds of police. Hmm. Not exactly what I meant. You do the authority figure thing, but you don’t talk like a cop.”
“No insouciant cop speak?” Eric asked. “I cribbed that phrase from a novel, by the way.”
“Something like that. Are they going to play, or what?”
Noah certainly knew how to put on a show.
He had wrangled a conference room from the hotel somehow – the conference rooms being few in number, and frequently used – and obtained hors d’oeuvres that actually looked quite palatable, even by Mars standards. A table with a cloth hiding some sort of structure stood at one end of the room.
Pulling away the cloth, he revealed a hologram. The cloth was made from smart fabric, and had been holding itself up without any supports. There was a smattering of applause, and people crowded forwards to see what he had made.
“I think everyone here has a feel for how the growth of the colony has been straining infrastructure in a number of different ways,” he said. “You can see here a three dimensional map of the current colony, and as I adjust the population upwards, you can see these parts turn red. You’re going to need a systemic plan to cope with that. It isn’t just a matter of building another of everything.”
“That’s particularly going to be the case if the rumors I’ve been hearing are true,” he added. There were a mixture of puzzled and thoughtful looks around the room.
She read Eric’s face before he spoke.
“Don’t take up poker.”
“You lied to me,” he said.
“I did nothing of the sort,” she replied.
“What is this, the errors and omissions department? You lied to me.”
“With due respect, it was none of your business.”
“With due respect, there is nobody on this planet that this is more pertinent for,” he pointed. “You see that?” The hotel lobby had a magnificent window. One of the moons was transiting.
“You’re going to bring that down on our heads. We’re not coping with the growth as it is. Have you heard Sarah’s rant?”
“Yeah. She’s yelled at me twice now.”
“We can’t keep up with infrastructure. There’s a bunch of people coming as it is, and we don’t have a clue who they are. Now this. You’re working for the United States Department of Corrections, and you think this is Australia in the middle fucking ages.” he was close to shouting now.
“I’m consulting for them and the EU, actually. And I think it was the seventeen hundreds or something.”
“I minored in history. I know that.”
“Do you have any idea of the politics here?” she asked him. “There’s a lot of pressure.”
“Yes. It costs a bunch of dough each year to keep a criminal in jail. So why not save a bundle of cash by dumping them on Mars,” he paused momentarily. “Look, they would tear this place to pieces.”
“They’re only talking about low risk of re-offending. White collar stuff.”
“Look around you. Do you think we need a bunch of crooked accountants here? What are we going to do with them? Stick them on a mining crew?”
She sighed. “I’m taking this stuff back to them, you know.”
“Yes. You do that.”
“This isn’t a done deal. There’s lots of options here.”
“Right.” He said that in a flat voice.
They faced off across the conference table in Sarah’s office. Sarah and Frank on one side of the table, Eric on the other.
“I need to know where you stand on this,” he said.
“Hopefully out of the way,” said Frank.
Sarah laid her hand on Frank’s arm. “Wrong approach, my dear.” She looked back at Eric. “How much detail did she give you?”
“Enough to get the gist.”
“Come on,” said Frank. “She’s your girlfriend.”
“Did you deliberately send me out there in order to provoke this? Was this all planned? Just what do you think entitles you to play with people’s lives like that?”
Sarah interjected. “Frank, please cut it out.” She turned back to Eric. “Believe it or not, that wasn’t at all what either of us had in mind. I actually thought possibly that you just might be a good match for each other.”
“Maybe in the adversarial sense of the word,” Eric replied. He had regained composure, but was still evidently very angry.
“We weren’t playing games with you.” she said.
“We had advanced notice from Earth,” Frank said. “We just assumed this was the usual waste of money fact finding jaunt, and that things would just blow over.”
“What exactly is going on here?” Eric asked.
“Politics. Convoluted Earth variety,” Sarah said.
“This is why I left. If they go ahead with this, it is going to be a disaster.”
“Yes. That’s the viewpoint we presented to her.”
“Is she going to buy it?”
“We hoped you would be able to tell us that. Anyhow, she isn’t the decision-maker on this. We have no idea how this is going to play out.”
“I know. We’ll keep pushing on the Earth front. Please talk to her before she leaves.”
“How did the meeting go?” Shae asked.
“They’re interested. I can’t tell whether they’re bought it, but Sarah promised to talk to the people Earth-side to see if they’re willing to do it my way. The infrastructure is going to be built one way or another anyway, and I think this will save them a lot of money down the road.”
“You’re going to stay on?”
“I’ll hang around until the next cycler, regardless,” Noah said.
Eric took her out to the landing pad. En route, they avoided talking about anything other than pleasantries. At the boarding ramp, she turned about.
“I wish things had turned out differently,” she said.
“Whichever way things go, I’ll probably be back in a year or so. Maybe…” she tailed off.
“I’ll see you then, perhaps.”
She gestured around her. “I really get it though. You’re in love with the idea of Mars, aren’t you?”
“That’s a strange way of putting it.” He thought for a second. “Yeah, maybe. It isn’t about a pristine people-free planet though. Its about building a dream.”
“You ever see the Statue of Liberty?”
“In New York? Yeah. You’re talking about the poem on the base, right?”
“Yes.” she responded.
“That’s sort of it. We’re trying to build something special here.”
“I didn’t need to show a passport when I arrived,” she said.
“Right. We’re hoping to keep it that way.”
“But. Its one thing for somebody to come here hoping to start over,” he said.
“Another entirely if we send our wretched refuse?”
“Please don’t twist what I’m saying.”
“I don’t want to argue. I get it.”
“Have a safe trip.” he said.
She gave him a mock salute, and headed up the ramp.