I check my dosimeter again, and earn another dirty look from Abel. Problem is, we’re much too close to the big central chunk of neutronium, the paper-weight that makes everything on this asteroid point down, and not just float around. I don’t like the deep tunnels.
“What?” I say. “You like being irradiated?”
“It’s still green,” says Abel. “Not even a tiny tinge of yellow. It’s perfectly safe.”
“Where is this guy?” I ask. “Let’s just interview him and get out of here, while I can still have kids.”
Abel chuckles. “Just follow the singing,” he says, and waves thataway.
Our subject is some sort of musical recluse, encrusted in a cavern that he’d carved out for himself, far away from all of the ballyhoo and the limelights.
“Baker,” says Abel. “This way. Can’t you hear him?”
I certainly can, but the echos make it hard to tell where the rich, baritone voice is coming from. I shrug, and whistle all of my camera and lighting drones to heel.
“Here,” says Abel, and indeed we are. The cavern extends up and back, and out of sight. A flood light, nesting on the ceiling, casually casts its spot on a wooden cottage. The person we’re seeking is sitting on a rocking chair on his front porch, absently fingering a guitar that he holds in his lap. There’s a thicket of trees, a vegetable patch, some greenish grass out front. White picket fence. The scene would be bucolic, if we weren’t deep inside an asteroid – and far too close to its savage core for my comfort, at that.
“Are you Charlie?” asks Abel.
“You’re standing on my lawn,” he says.
I flash my badge. “Press,” I say. “We have a constitutional right to stand on your lawn, or anywhere else for that matter. Take it up with the courts.”
“I retired a long time ago,” he says. “Just give me a break, will ya?”
Abel cleared his throat. “Fame is the only exportable commodity this worthless rock has,” he says. “People have noticed that you’re not pulling your weight. How are we supposed to run our economy if people just go and hide down in the Deeps, and don’t embrace their fifteen minutes, plus whatever encores are necessary? We’re paying for your air, freeloader.”
“I’ve got my own scrubber back there,” says Charlie. I’m not sure if he means the trees, or if there’s machinery there also. “Ain’t costing you a dime.” He shrugs his shoulders, tugs on the lapels of his white, eagle-embossed jacket, and settles his guitar back on his lap. Starts fishing around absently in his pockets, most likely for a pick.
“C’mon, pal,” I say. “Just give us an interview, do a song and dance, stand on your head. Something we can sell.”
Charlie reaches into his jacket, and pulls out a square of parchment from an inner pocket. “Look here,” he says, smoothing it out. “I got to this place before the bunch of you. I have legitimate squatter’s rights. If I wanted to, I could even take this down the Gravity Well to the You En and kick the mediocre lot of you off this rock.”
I zoomed in on the paper with one of my lenses, and shared the close-up with Abel. “He doesn’t look that old,” I said quietly. Not that you can ever tell these days. Plastic surgery has come a long way. His hair was much too good though. No way. Not a chance.
“That isn’t possible,” said Abel. “I don’t even think people were up in space back then.”
“Sure they were,” said Charlie. “I just hitched me a ride. Big old Saturn Five. Brought a shovel and my guitar.” He produced a small comb from the same place that the paper had been, and neatened his brilliantined sideburns. “Now if you’ll excuse me,” he said. “I was awfully busy singing to myself. Also, you’re still standing on my lawn.”