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Chapter Three: The Gamera

I used to find it mysterious and frustrating that the
news media—those whose trade it is to observe reality and
bear witness to everyone else—are the least capable
observers and least articulate witnesses among us. Then I
realized that there’s no such thing as “the news”; it’s just
the lowest, sleaziest rung on the show business ladder.

The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu

“That’s really him down there?” asked Ingrid Andersson, staring
into the monitor from where she stood behind her employer’s desk
chair.

“What Ingrid said,” said Adam Ngu. Despite her name, his assistant
was as thoroughly Asian as a young woman could get: high cheekbones,
dark eyes that looked almost black, and glossy hair that displayed
reddish highlights in the sun. It was typical of Adam that he’d never
noticed she was pretty, although a civil engineer certainly should
have noticed how perfectly constructed she was. Everyone else who
worked with her had.

“Yes, Miss Andersson, Mr. Ngu, you’re looking at him now,” said
the off-camera voice of Hortense Blumenfeld, manager—not captain—
of the factory ship Percival Lowell. Like about half of such vessels
presently standing in synchronous orbit about Ceres, the Percy, as
she was called, was independently owned and operated, rather than
property of the Curringer Corporation. “It appears his envirosuit
radio was damaged in the gunfight.”

Gunfight. Behind Adam, Ingrid let a little gasp escape her throat.
She was originally from East America, where such things as gunfights
were completely unheard of—because they were censored from the
news.

Hortense would be the one to know, Adam thought. Although the
screen was showing the surface of Ceres, he could see her in his mind,
a short, compactly built woman with a cloud of tightly-curled black
hair about her head. She’d grown up on Mars, a Settled World in some
ways only half terraformed even now, where envirosuits were as common
as raincoats, and they still had an occasional gunfight to make life
interesting.

Adam leaned back in his swivel chair, gazing up for a moment
through the non-existent ceiling of his office, at the underside of
the transparent dome, a thousand feet high, that served as base camp
and headquarters for the Ceres Terraformation Project. A mile and a
half in diameter, made of the same plastic that would someday cover
the entire planetoid (except, of course, for the polar craters), the
dome kept a habitable environment within, while protecting Adam and
those working for him from solar radiation and a constant rain of
micrometeorites.

He could see a lot of tiny lights up there. Some were asteroids—
this was the most densely populated portion of the Belt—but he
didn’t have time or patience just now to watch long enough to tell
which. He saw the Curringer Corporation’s factory vessel Giuseppi
Piazzi
, flagship of the fleet, affectionately known by everyone as
Joe Pizza. Then he peered again at the big, flat, high resolution
screen at the back of his desk.

“This is in real time,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” Hortense answered, “Real time.”

The view was through a computer-assisted telescope aboard the
Percy, looking into an otherwise undistinguished crater from which a
missile had apparently been launched at the factory ship. Down inside
the crater, the remains of a jumpbuggy were the easiest thing to
see—little more than metallic confetti in the middle of a spoked
rosette of blackened soil. Not far away, a small cluster of figures
wearing brightly-colored envirosuits sat cross-legged, fingers
interlaced submissively atop their helmets.

On a nearby rock that had tumbled back into the crater sometime in
the last couple of billion years, keeping his prisoners in that
position, sat an individual wearing a white, professional-grade
envirosuit more appropriate to long-term use on an asteroid’s surface.
The manager of the Percy had assured Adam that the figure was his
son, Wilson. Whoever it was—and there was no reason to believe that
it wasn’t his son—he held a bulky laser rifle across his chest and
looked up, every few minutes, toward the factory vessel in orbit above
him.

He made a decision. “Ingrid, call the motor pool and ask them to
warm up a gamera for me, will you?”

“Right away, Boss.” Ingrid went to her own desk and began pushing
buttons.

“Thank goodness we had the Morse Code in our database, Mr. Ngu,”
Hortense was saying. They’d known each other and worked together for
15 years, and he’d never persuaded her to call him by his first name.
Martians could be terribly formal, just as Pallatians tended to be
rather informal. “And thank goodness your son guessed right, that at
this distance, a laser rifle is safe to use as a signalling device.”

Adam laughed. “If I know my own son, there wasn’t any guessing to
it. That young man has the quickest mind for practical math I’ve seen
since I met his mother. Did you attempt to signal back?”

“Yes, sir. We’d seen the missile they fired at us—damn fools
couldn’t shoot for sour owlshit, pardon the expression, sir. Then we
watched the gunfight and the explosion. Unfortunately, there wasn’t
any way we could help. All of our tenders were out on rounds—still
are, in fact—and we have no real weapons aboard except for personal
sidearms. I think I’ll write a memo about that when this is over. When
the boy sent us an SOS, using that laser, we switched off all of
Percy‘s running lights and switched them back on again, three times.

“He acknowledged with his first initial and his last name.”

Adam nodded, filled with fatherly pride. She could see him, even
if he couldn’t see her. He was a man in his early 40s, sparely-built,
tall, with thinning, sandy hair and an expression of vague sadness he
didn’t know he wore. “Then he’ll know help is on the way—which it
won’t be until I’m aboard the gamera. Talk to you again enroute.”

“Okay, Mr. Ngu,” she answered, “Percival Lowell, signing off.”

He got up, seizing his pistol belt where it hung from a shelf
above the desk. It held a 10mm Magnum Ngu Departure Mark Five that the
inventor—his own long-missing grandfather—had given him as a
gift on his twelfth birthday. He was never more than an arm’s length
away from it—that was the Pallatian Way—but the belt, holster,
and spare magazine pouches didn’t work well with the arms of his
swivel chair.

“Ingrid, I’m outa here! Take the rest of the day off. I’m going to
need you bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“Good hunting, Boss.” She extinguished the lights and shut the
door behind them.

******

“Doctor Ngu!”

Striding across the dome at ground level—his office was at one
edge, the motor pool airlock almost at the other—Adam recalled that
he hadn’t known why transports used here and on other large asteroids
were called gamera, until his daughter had told him.

“Doctor Ngu!”

In his mind’s eye he could see Llyra now, tall, slender like
nearly all Pallatians, blonde and fair, with a light scattering of
freckles across her cute little turned-up nose—but looking back at
him with her lost and legendary great-grandfather’s Asian eyes. She’d
been exasperated with her daddy because “everybody” knew that the
vehicles were named for their shape—everybody her age and
enthusiastic about the latest media revival—a giant, mythical,
rocket-powered turtle in silly Japanese monster movies of a previous
century.

Sometimes he wondered where a 13-year-old learned about things
like that. It certainly wasn’t what he and his wife imported tutors to
teach her. On the other hand, it had been a long time since he’d been
13 himself, and the years between full enough to make remembering what
it was like a trifle difficult.

If only Ardith—

“Phone!” Adam spoke to the air more emphatically than he’d meant
to. The thought of his wife usually had that effect on him. A welding
crew preparing their midday meal at the worksite looked up at him.
They were using an acetylene torch to heat the underside of a cast
iron skillet, its handle clamped in a vise. It smelled like they were
frying rabbit. It reminded him that he hadn’t had any lunch yet today.

He grinned and waved as he passed them.

“Doctor Ngu!”

Ready” came the electronic answer from his shirt pocket.

The dome was full of buildings, relatively skeletal in appearance
to any observer born and raised in more than a tenth of a standard
gravity. Here were the administrative offices, drafting facilities,
workshops, and living quarters for the Curringer Corporation’s Ceres
Terraformation Project which he served as Executive Director and Chief
Engineer. He walked rapidly through the makeshift streets between the
so-far only half-constructed buildings, unconsciously inspecting them
as he talked.

“Get me Lindsay and Arleigh, right away, in conference.”

“I just learned about Wilson,” said a voice most people heard as
identical to his own. His middle brother Lindsay was one of his two
“right arms” on the Project. “I’m on my way back now. You under way,
yet, Ad?”

“Not quite,” Adam told him. “I’m afoot, just arriving at the
tunnel airlock. I’ll be aboard Number 23 in three minutes. Where are
you now?”

Lindsay laughed. “Look out through the dome. That’s me approaching
in the crawler. Some idiot excavator thought he’d found a Drake-Tealy
Object. What he found was one of the original survey landing sites.
I’ll reach the gamera first. Want some coffee? Where’s Arleigh?”

“What I want is lunch.” Adam couldn’t see him through the dome.
He’d just sealed himself into the first of three airlocks between the
edge of it and the motor pool. All the chambers between were kept
filled with air, so the only wait was for the doors to open and close.

“I’m in the lockspace right behind, you Ad,” came a third voice,
tenor, rather different from those of his brothers. “If you’ll wait.
There’s a very insistent young woman with me who’s been following you
from your office, screaming your name.”

Adam waited as requested, until the lock cycled, and was joined by
his youngest brother. Arleigh was already wearing most of a company
issue envirosuit and held his helmet under his arm, with his gloves
tucked into it. Adam’s envirosuit—one of them, anyway—would be
waiting for him in the gamera.

“Doctor Ngu…” There was a woman with Arleigh, mid-30s, Adam
guessed, and from Earth to judge by her clothing. She wore a fairly
plain business suit with a short skirt that didn’t work at one tenth
of a gee—or worked splendidly, depending on one’s viewpoint. It
kept creeping up over her hips and she had to hike it down. What most
impressed Adam about her was that she wore a pair of Sony QDH-616G
SuperMedia spectacles with cameras at their outer corners no bigger
than a pinhead—and far too much perfume for a closed environment.

Without thinking about it consciously, he dismissed her.

Unlike Adam and Lindsay, and most Pallatians, Arleigh was almost
as broad as he was tall. Their father Bill joked that he’d been born
over a mascon and was built for heavy gravity. Arleigh had powerful
arms and big, thick-fingered hands. His bushy hair and massive beard
were black and curly. People had the impression he was short until
they stood beside him. From the first moment she’d spoken, and for
seven or eight years thereafter, Llyra had called her uncle Arleigh
“Hagrid”.

Arleigh had named himself. He’d hated his first name, Randolph.
He’d hated being called Randy even worse. Going by his middle name for
a while, he’d found that people assumed that “Leigh Ngu” was Asian.
Not that it mattered. The brothers’ paternal grandfather was half
Cambodian and half Vietnamese. That was how things were in the Belt.
People came for a new beginning. They met and married others—or the
daughters and sons of others—who had come for exactly the same
reason.

By then, nobody cared about anything about you, except the kind of
person you were inside. You had to be smart and tough to survive. You
had to have a decent regard for the rights of others. That was what
really counted. The boys’ great grandmother’s maiden name had been
Singh, but her father had been born and raised in Montana, part of
West America.

“Doctor Ngu,” the woman insisted. “Please let me introduce myself.
I’m Honey Graham, of the Interplanetary Interactive Information
Service. I understand there’s something of a crisis going on right
now, and that it involves Null Delta Em—and your son, Wilson.”

Without pausing more than an instant, Adam turned away from the
woman and shook his brother’s hand. Ignoring her, they both hurried
down the long tunnel designed to protect the dome from an explosion or
fire in the motor pool. (The mechanics always said it was to protect
them from an accident in the dome.)

On the phone, Lindsay spoke. “I’ve downloaded nav data, Ad. Are
you about here?”

Adam said, “Just beneath you, cycling the elevator lock.”

“See here, Doctor Ngu, you can’t just ignore me like that!” Honey
Graham had caught up and was out of breath. “I represent the people’s
press, and the people have a right—”

Adam turned to her. “This is the asteroid Ceres, Miss… what did
you say your name was? Every square inch of it is private property,
and ‘the people’ have exactly the same rights here that they have in
your bedroom. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

He pushed buttons beside what looked like an ordinary elevator
door. It opened into a cylindrical chamber. He and Arleigh entered,
looking forward to the door closing behind them.

“Please wait, Doctor Ngu! I’ve been on this goddamned rock for
three weeks and haven’t found a single story worth transmitting home!
I’m in danger of losing my job—and even worse, of dying of boredom!
Can’t I come along? I’ll behave myself, I promise.”

She twisted her torso slightly to expose a bit of cleavage and
even more thigh. Adam sighed to himself. After only two minutes’
acquaintence, he detested this woman and everything she represented.
But as Director of the Ceres Terraformation Project, he couldn’t
afford trouble with the press right now, especially if Null Delta
Em—and their sponsors, the Mass Movement—was involved.

“What’s the matter, Miss…” he asked. “If nothing bleeds, then
nothing leads?”

“I’m Honey Graham, Doctor Ngu, and I’m afraid you’re right. I’m
hearing that your son is a hero, though, and I’d like to cover the
story.”

“All right,” he told her. “Step into the elevator. I don’t suppose
you have an envirosuit with you.”

Arleigh laughed. “We’ll fix her up, Ad, don’t worry about it.”

Adam pressed a button. The door shut and they felt a slight change
in pressure in their ears. By the time they’d worked their jaws to
clear them, the elevator had risen 20 feet and was now inside the
belly of the gamera. The door opened. The two men and the woman
stepped out.

The door closed and another door, part of the gamera, closed
over it. The elevator lowered itself back into the ground and circular
doors on both the gamera and the tunnel below sealed themselves. The
chamber that remained in the gamera could now be used as an ordinary
airlock.

“What’s our ETA?” Adam strode forward to the controls, while
Arleigh stayed behind with the reporter, ostensibly to inspect some
part of the machinery. Lindsay sat in the lefthand seat, working his
way through the checklist. Like his brother, he was tall and slender,
although his hair was dark and had receded to form a distinctive
widow’s peak.

“Point-to-point, about 36 minutes.” Lindsay flipped a last switch,
closed the aluminum-covered book, and dropped it into its slot beside
his left knee. He shouted at Arleigh, “Grilled cheese sandwiches and
tomato soup in the kitchen unit! Better buckle up back there!”

“I’m buckled! So is Miss Graham—may I call you Honey?”

Grinning, Lindsay checked radar, then checked the old-fashioned
way, through what were once called windshields, for any traffic around
them. He took the yoke in his left hand, put his feet on the pedals,
and pulled back on a lever. The gamera lifted itself from the ground
on a column of ionized gases, surged forward as it continued to rise,
and they were off.

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