Excerpt for Earthrise by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



© 2017 Jeff D. Buchanan † Cinenovel®


© copyright 2017, by Jeff D. Buchanan


All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Buchanan, Jeff

Earthrise / by Jeff D. Buchanan

ISBN 10: 0-9969279-7-2

ISBN 13: 978-0-9969279-7-0

    Cover Design by Jasser Membreno ©2017




––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 1    

THE SURFACE OF MARS had been stirred to a violent fury, the virulent winds rousing the sands in blinding wrath, blotting out the sun and making mad the riot with red. The thrashing tumult made cruel play of a chain-link fence, threatening to uproot its poles from their deep moorings of cement. Clinging to the rungs in rebellion against the assault a tin sign rattled in metallic staccato. In descending order down its sandblasted and scarred face, six languages warranted the myriad, towering smoke stacks beyond streaked with rust and spewing acrid plumes that flattened against the wind. Arabic tiered the order, followed by Farsi, then Hindi in Devanagari script, the distinct symbols of Chinese, then Russian. Lastly, the faded letters of English:



The brutal winds reshaped the dunes in their harsh play, revealing long dead plants buried beneath the ocean swells of sand. The various species of seedlings, imported long ago from across space, were harsh reminder of man’s failed attempts to green the great elsewhere of Mars. The ceaseless winds pounded the brittle forests with a tireless ebb and flow of burials and exhumations.

Today, the winds were mischievously uncovering something else hidden in the sand. Entwined within the decaying undergrowth the fingers of a human hand, frozen in rigor mortis, reached statuesquely skyward, the ashen skin drawn taught against the bones in a diaphanous glove.

The mad play of the winds had subsided. They had taken their folly elsewhere. The calm of the new Martian day, just begun, had awakened to perfectly groomed dunes of sand-muted quiet, as still as the bottom of a deep and waterless ocean. It was but an ephemeral gift, existing only briefly in the lull between tumults.

Out of the immaculately brushed sand, barely discernible among the small forest of dead branches, rose the alabaster hand, the delicate fingers frozen in grotesquely elegant posture against the dawn. The winds had further exposed the forearm, which was wrapped with a length of oxidized chain that anchored it in puzzling malice to the thick roots.

Leaving cascading trails in the sand, a group of scientists descended the slope from where their rover was parked, fanning out into the ancient riverbed in private paths of study. They came once a week, dressed in their white jumpsuits and wide-brimmed sunhats in anticipation of the water that was slowly coursing its way down from the Martian pole to wake this riverbed from one million years of sleep. Advancing in her work, one of the researchers was unwittingly headed to imminent discovery of the mystery the Martian winds, in their childish play, had ruefully uncovered; a mystery that would inevitably beg answering.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 2

THE SOFT RUMBLE OF treated air coursed the labyrinth of ventilation shafts, driven by the monotonous din of generators deep within the bowels of the mammoth spacecraft. In the darkness of the first class cabin breathing rose and fell to rhythms of sleep. The delicate chimes of a clock reached out into the darkness to gently stir the sleeper from his dreams.

In the bed, passenger Enerson Drinkwine gently stirred and, half sleeping, silenced the clock. He blinked his way to consciousness as the LED lights began their slow, programmed rise to brightness, illuminating the small cabin of brushed aluminum walls and artificial wood accents. There was just enough room to take two short strides in any direction. The single bed, declined from the wall in a retractable frame of titanium, took up the majority of the cabin. There was a writing desk, the accoutrements secured with Velcro. Drawers were fitted into all available slivers of space, making efficient use of the limited economy of room. The tiny bathroom was comprised of a combination toilet and shower, with an aluminum sink that held barely more water than what Drinkwine could hold in his large, cupped hands. The cabin was tastefully appointed with flowered wallpaper, intended to remind one of home. But this was a long way from home.

Collecting his thin wire-rimmed bifocals from the nightstand, Drinkwine brought the room into focus. He ran a hand through his thinning hair and, still in bed, reached across the small space to slide the window shade up. Beyond the two-inch thick glass of the porthole, freezing to the touch, the wild reaches of space pooled as if submerged in an ocean of ink. The sunlight that came through the porthole crawled down the wall of the cabin as the enormous craft rotated on its axis, the great, spoke wheel structure in a slow and constant spin to generate centrifugal force, mimicking gravity in the outer perimeter where the main operational area and first class cabins were situated.

Drinkwine remained in bed for a moment, tracing the patterns of sunlight that slid down the wall and bent at the floor before sweeping across the carpet and ascending the adjacent wall. Round and round, a continuing kaleidoscope of oscillating patterns of light that made play of the room. It was all the spectacle of the massive spacecraft, waltzing its way through the weightlessness of space.

Further down the giant spokes of the craft, in declining values of gravity, were the second class cabins. At the center of the hub, where centrifugal force had no influence, were the mechanical machinations of the ship. Immune to gravity the churning nuclear turbine drove the beast, the electrical main panels and computer brains navigating the endless reaches of space with infallible precision. Also down there, among the stowage, sharing the devalued space, plagued by the uncomfortable effects of weightlessness, was the steerage.

As the craft gently rotated on its axis it brought into view, in sweeping arcs outside the porthole, brief glimpses of the perimeter of Mars. The planet shone as a rust-colored orb streaked with shadows cast from tall mountain peaks across its barren plains. The six-week flight from the Moon, following the three-day layover from Earth, was coming to a close. Now only the final leg remained; the shuttle that would rush him to the surface of Mars. Drinkwine wished he could go on into the black abyss of space—continue traversing the solitude. But work was at hand.

The trip had been uneventful. Drinkwine had spent the majority of the time in here, preferring to take his meals in the privacy offered by his cabin as opposed to dining with the other first class passengers, with their condescending stares and vaguely insulting inquiries into who he was and what line of work he was in. After all, he was an oddity; a Caucasian, an American, traveling in first class. For many of them this was the closest they’d ever been to a white person.

A gentle female voice came over the intercom. It spoke in English, heavily accented with a Middle Eastern inflection. “Good morning, Mr. Drinkwine. Boarding for the Mars shuttle will commence in one hour. Please notify your valet of any personal items you require assistance with.”

Beset with morning stiffness, Drinkwine draped his legs over the side of the bed and let out a sigh. He gazed at the planet, still some four hundred kilometers off, glowing red against the gathering Martian dawn. Mars; the newest and most promising outpost of humanity. Down there, spread across the surface, fully automated terraforming stations, hundreds of them, had been spewing out a concoction of chemicals for eighty years. Rich in fluorocarbons, specifically Tetrafluoromethane—otherwise known as CF4—when congealed with the existing composition of atmosphere resulted in a breathable facsimile of oxygen. It was putrid and thin, and scratched the throat, but Mars had air. He’d read all about it over the past six weeks.

Drinkwine knew when he received his itinerary and saw the first class passage that the department was attempting to assuage his concerns for what lay ahead. Their efforts only served to heighten them. Drinkwine was a forensics detective. He dealt in homicide. He had the dubious distinction of having solved the Moon’s first murder. That was twenty years ago, when the Moon was first being colonized. It seemed so remote at the time, the notion of a murder on the Moon. The novelty had long since worn off. There had been over fourteen thousand lunar homicides since. And now, in strangely similar circumstance, here he was en route to Mars to investigate the red planet’s first murder.

Yes, someone had been murdered. There was little to go on. The body of a low-level white American worker had been found. The Martian winds had exhumed it from its shallow grave. The body had been there for some indiscriminant amount of time—long enough for serious decomposition to set in. The deceased went by the name of Michael Byrne and no one seemed to know much about him, except that, under deeper scrutiny, the name turned out to be invented. Perhaps to cover-up some past indiscretion with the law that would negate employment on Mars. Who knows? Well, the front of Michael Byrne’s skull was missing. Where normally there would be a face and a brain was a gaping hole. His head had been disintegrated by the blast of a Roches 4.0 service handgun against the back of the head. The Roches was a popular and rugged sidearm for police officers on the Moon. Designed primarily as a subduing weapon for riot situations it had a nasty spray of lethal shotgun-like discharge requiring minimal accuracy of aim—as was evident in the photos Drinkwine had been wired from Mars. He had studied the photos of the gaping hole of obliterated skull and hanging jaw with indifference. To have excavated the front portion of the head while leaving the back half of skull intact, save for the 40mm diameter entrance wound, irrevocably pointed to extremely close range; execution style. Other than that there was only rumor and conjecture.

The classified materials Drinkwine had been studying while en route these past weeks were now neatly filed away in his small aluminum briefcase. The hard copies of materials deemed insignificant or unnecessary had been taken to the furnace in the refuse room of the spaceship in a ritual of burning, always presided over by Drinkwine. The attending technicians resented being watched over by a white man—however, orders had been passed along by their superiors ensuring the detective’s wishes.

Having shaved and showered, Drinkwine dressed in front of the full-length mirror, smoothing the creases of his white linen suit. To offset the prejudices and uneasiness that his color and nationality provoked, Drinkwine always took measures to present himself in the best light, keeping his wardrobe of finely tailored linen suits immaculately laundered and his personal hygiene impeccable, right down to the daily splash of rose water cologne.

In anticipation of arrival Drinkwine had already packed, his travel bag and aluminum brief set by the door. On the desk sat two unopened cartons of Hollands. He allowed himself the indulgence of five of the thin, rich cigarillos per day. One carton had already been consumed. Another carton would be reserved for the return six-week trip to Earth. That left one carton, roughly a five-week supply, to cover the duration of the investigation. How Drinkwine had arrived at that estimate he had no idea. Confidence perhaps. Or perhaps the shopworn routines of this work had taught him that more often than naught—especially when large corporations had a stake in the outcome—the investigation would meet with some strange strangulation of interference and he would be conveniently relieved of duty in a questionable abortion of ethics and the law. The want of dollars would always supersede the concerns of justice. Money, greed, they were the anacondas of truth. And Mars had proliferated them in spades. There was little use in trying to fight it.

As he self-consciously combed his thinning strands of hair one last time, Drinkwine thought of the questions and suspicion he was bringing with him. The investigation was already seen as a potential stain on an otherwise beautifully embroidered tapestry of commerce by the various entities with a stake in colonizing Mars. Those entities had already made discrete inquiries into how the investigation was going to be handled. When they had learned of the nationality of the detective being assigned to the case they were, accountably, worried. They were intent on diffusing any threat to the promise of the safe and crime free planet they had been selling the past few years. His being white and an American, like the victim, would only add fuel to the fire.

Drinkwine picked up one of the ubiquitous color pamphlets from the desk with an artist’s rendition of what the future Mars colony would look like; smiling settlers, all of them dark-skinned; a metropolis of towering glass; tranquil lakes; the air a mild 26 degrees Celsius year round. Murder wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the marketing materials. 42,332 people currently populated Mars; engineers, technicians, researchers, investors, bankers. The vast majority, however, were low-level, unskilled workers hired for the backbreaking tasks of extracting the iron ore from the planet to create the new city. Thousands more crawled the skeletal framework of the high-rises, welding and riveting them ever skyward. 42,332 people in all—among them, a murderer. Drinkwine had a hunch there was only one culprit. There was nothing to substantiate that. It was just a hunch. Until he peeled back the layers of what had transpired, they all must be regarded as a possible suspect. It was the best way to work; don’t trust anyone. That’s how cops died, letting their guard down—believing people. There were 42,332 people on Mars and the only one he knew didn’t do it was himself. That’s where he was starting from.

After dropping the pamphlet into the trashcan Drinkwine gathered himself. Taking a deep breath, he pressed the button that slid the metal cabin door open on a swoosh of air. Surrendering his precious solitude, Drinkwine exited the safe confines of the first class stateroom, the door closing behind, delivering him into the soft parade of wealthy travelers making eagerly for the shuttle platform. Instantly he encountered the familiar, curious stares as he made his way along the corridor, the token white in a linen suit among a small throng of wealthy, dark-skinned Middle Easterners dressed in beautiful silk thwabs and hijabs. The only sound was the soft padding of expensive shoes against the perfectly groomed carpet.

The corridor funneled the travelers toward the shuttle platform. Through the few windows lining the passenger tunnel, travelers glimpsed with awe the impressive craft moored to the mother ship; the sleek, white fuselage of carbon fiber ribbed with rows of tiny windows. Narrow wings would provide just enough surface area to guide the craft down through the vague atmosphere of Mars in steep spirals of descent to land them in the new world that awaited.

As the procession slowed to a bottleneck at the cabin door of the shuttle, Drinkwine looked out at the gently turning Ferris wheel of the main ship, sunlight playing shadows with the giant spokes of the cathedral-like structure. Barely visible below the first class causeway, Drinkwine caught sight of a pedestrian tunnel where the second class and steerage passengers made their way onto the lower level of the shuttle. Through the few windows that lined the footway, suspended across the narrow abyss of space, he could see passengers, most of them white, bunched together like sardines in a tin. They wore weary and motion-sick faces from weeks of weightlessness, now ambling awkwardly with atrophied limbs against the effect of artificial gravity found in the outer perimeter of the main craft. For one fleeting moment, Drinkwine caught the bewildered stare of a young boy who looked back at him quizzically before being pushed along in the urgent crush of humanity.

As Drinkwine approached the main door of the shuttle he anticipated the change in demeanor that was to come to the two East Indian officers, presently welcoming the passengers warmly in various languages. An American, in the first class corridor, in possession of two cartons of cigarillos was bound to rouse suspicion. It would require explanation, patience, and answering a litany of accusing questions to put them at ease as to what a white man was doing here, for surely they would believe him to have somehow coerced his way. As if by rote, Drinkwine had already retrieved his passport, his boarding card, and his official work papers.

As expected the smiles left their faces as Drinkwine advanced to the cabin door. One of the officers spoke into a lapel microphone as they stepped into Drinkwine’s path. With trained efficiency they set their hands upon him in firm, clandestine hold, and ushered him to the side. They rifled accusatory questions in a rapid Indo-Aryan tongue, to which Drinkwine could only answer with the presentation of official papers and polite pleas of, “Pardon me, English, please, I only speak English.”

As well-to-do Middle Eastern families and businessmen continued to board the craft, regarding the altercation with curiosity, one of the officers snatched the paperwork from Drinkwine. The other, still with firm hold—as if Drinkwine might spirit off to God knows where—used his free hand to seize the passport, the seal of America only heightening their suspicions. The officer flipped the passport open to the picture, holding it up alongside Drinkwine’s face in insulting deliberation. Drinkwine was accustomed to this treatment by passport control officers, policemen, hotel clerks and maître d’. The two officers studied his boarding card with suspicion, looking for discrepancies or fraudulent alteration. They calmed slightly, exchanging questioning looks as they perused the papers with the official seal of law enforcement. Reading the notes in the official box for special circumstances, one of the officers asked harshly in broken English, “You have a badge then?”

Drinkwine nodded, producing his wallet and flipping it open to reveal the gold-plated shield. The two officers seemed disappointed. Without ceremony or apology they rudely thrust the passport, boarding pass, and papers back at him, reluctantly stepping aside to allow him to board the first class level of the shuttle.

The first class cabin was less than half full. Drinkwine reclined in one of the plush leather seats, a five-point safety harness holding him securely in place against the weightlessness that would take over the cabin once it freed itself from its nursing of the mother ship. Several rows forward, a dark-skinned child wearing a finely stitched, colorfully patterned silk coat, continually peered around the tall seat back to look at Drinkwine. Repeatedly the dark, slender, bejeweled fingers of his mother’s hand came around the boy’s head to gently pull him from his innocent curiosity.

After the perfunctory pre-flight emergency brief the cabin went dark and was immediately filled with the red illumination of warning lights that signaled detachment was imminent. With a whisper of vibration that traveled the length of the shuttle, accompanied by a distant thump of mechanized movement, the craft jettisoned away, instantly confusing the cabin with weightlessness once un-tethered from the centrifugal influence of the main ship. After a brief thrust of propulsion the shuttle dropped without sensation toward the planet below, banking around to align itself with a runway that awaited down there, somewhere, on the red surface.

Craning his head, Drinkwine looked back at the giant spoke wheel of the main craft that had been his home for six weeks, its carnivalesque movement framed in the small porthole, drawing small against the increasing distance. It was so strangely beautiful, the soundless turn of the massive Ferris wheel in tireless, eternal movement, serenely adrift in the infinity of space.

The seats around Drinkwine were empty. His closest traveling companion was an Asian businessman who had already fallen asleep due the strains of motion sickness. He had the appearance of a heavily funded businessman; on his way to Mars to ink deals that would net his company billions. Machinery. Hotels. Tooling. Who knows? Drinkwine thought of the business that had brought him across space. The business of murder. Mars loomed. Down there, beneath the new phenomenon of clouds, was this “thing” that had happened.

The shuttle appeared to be sitting still in silent orbit, betraying nothing of its actual velocity as final preparations were made by the pilots to pierce the flimsy atmosphere of Mars. Drinkwine used the time to listen through an earpiece to what he’d spoken into his personal recorder the previous day. The pocket device streamed somewhat trite mention of the trip along with sparse facts about the impending case that was drawing him in to arrival on Mars. “On the final leg of the trip to Mars from Earth. A homicide, uncovered over seven weeks ago. There’s little to go on. A standard-issue Roches riot police sidearm was the murder weapon. It had gone missing just prior, with no traceable paper trail to link to it. The victim was a low-level worker, name; Michael Byrne. Fake name, Caucasian, roughly 35 years of age, no family of record. The body was discovered by scientists monitoring the ancient riverbeds. Most likely the murder was committed elsewhere, the corpse taken to an area that will eventually be flooded with water thawed from the ice caps to form one of Mars’ lakes, then chained to dead roots in the hope it would remain forever at the bottom. I’m here to investigate the first murder on Mars.”

The digital recording presented a moment of pause, broken by a long, drawn out sigh. Drinkwine’s recorded voice resumed in a more contemplative tone. “Perhaps the workload will provide distraction, preventing me any time to think about Celeste. Seventeen years… ended… gone, with only the vague and unsatisfactory words that are offered in the turmoil of waning emotions and the end of devotion.”

Drinkwine was pulled from his musing out the window at the retreating spectacle of science in the distance. He reached into his breast pocket to retrieve the small recorder and paused it. He stared at the mother craft drawing smaller and smaller against the ocean of black; a ballerina in white, engaged in a never-ending pirouette. Celeste’s forlorn gaze came back to him, stirring the blackness with frightful clarity. So often had she taken that look over their penultimate year together it had invaded his dreams with haunting detail. How often had he caught her in that distant, sad mood? He had given up trying to coax any explanation from her and let her be, soaking up whatever melancholy was about in the feminine pastures of her mind in the hope it would abate and she would return to him. Which she did, but each time with diminishing value. They were now merely man and wife in name only. And that was on the verge of evaporating as well. The paperwork was noted and filed. They would be divorced by the time he returned to Earth.

For the past six weeks his mind had cruelly conjured portraits of her against the blank canvas of space. His mind was stubbornly immune to reason and continued to taunt him with all that had unfolded those oh so few weeks ago on Earth. In the intervening time not a single message had been received in response to his initial communications to her. She had said, in that last evening together, that his years of handling death had seeped a callousness into her being, and that she was afraid of becoming like one of his lifeless corpses. Yet, despite all that was at stake, he had accepted the assignment, understanding full well it would be the last nail in the coffin of their marriage. Awkwardly fumbling with the small device in his large hands, Drinkwine retraced the previous comments, listening intently. He pressed delete, erasing mention of her.

His moment of reflection was broken by the intercom coming to life with a pleasant female voice speaking Urdu. Drinkwine donned the seat’s headphones and found the English icon for translation; the words were translated by computer into perfectly enunciated English, replete with charming British accent.

“This is the cabin steward speaking. As we prepare for descent to Mars we wish to draw your attention out the port side windows, where visible against the backdrop of space, the Myoko orbiting mirror can be seen. Though appearing to be rather close, the Myoko mirror is actually one thousand kilometers distance. This is due the Myoko’s enormous size, measuring one-hundred kilometers in diameter, the face of which is comprised of over one hundred million square meters of reflective Mylar panels. Set in a gyro-synchronous orbit four hundred kilometers above the surface of Mars, the Myoko is positioned to redirect the sun’s rays at Mars’ north pole to melt the ice caps, which, in time, will create the Great Lakes of Mars. The satellite was designed to accommodate a working crew of two hundred.”

Yes, all very impressive, Drinkwine thought to himself. The huge mirror had been pounding the polar region for sixty years with an intensely focused beam of reflected sunlight, coaxing the reluctant water out of the ice caps, freeing it from a million years of imprisonment. The water was tediously flowing down the ancient mountains into the expansive basins of the Martian plains to form the essential life-giving lakes, breaking down latent peroxides and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. It was taking its own good time. The projections had been horribly wrong; the lakes were some twenty years behind scheduled flooding. Sun glinted off the distant orbiting structure, a gargantuan framework supporting the mirrored face, suspended in a motionless swim in the ocean of space high above the red planet.

What the steward left out of her eloquent discourse was the fact that the scientific marvel was abandoned. The company that had deployed the trillion-dollar satellite had long since gone bankrupt. The crews that lived aboard her had been pulled off and flown home. Over time, talks had broken down as to whom the responsibility fell to maintain the great debacle. No one came forward. Through it all, with the operation buried in an increasing avalanche of red tape and lawsuits, the orbiting mirror continued its dalliances with the sun, redirecting the unnatural course of its rays at Mars.

Eventually the science community declared that since the unmanned mirror was carrying out its purpose with impressive efficiency and no apparent threat, it was decided to simply leave it be—leave the lumbering giant of abandoned technology be in its solitary, motionless waltz of quiet purpose. Adrift for two decades, its creaking moans had been rendered mute against the vacuum of space, undertaking its task without the troubling, bothersome influence of humans.

The work of the mirror would continue until the lakes had formed and someone deemed it necessary to put it out of commission. That was the parlance of the manufacturer. It translated to blasting the satellite out of its orbit and sending it into the trash bin of the universe, where it would float untroubled for a thousand years until chance put it in the path of an asteroid. The resulting impact would create ten thousand fragments that would jettison off in independent trajectories—on and on, and so forth and so forth.

The arduous endeavor of settling Mars, as was evident with the Myoko mirror—with its vast requirements of time—had created new corporate strategies with projections charted not in years, but generations; business deals with latent maturity to be overseen by the executives’ offspring many years hence. The decision-makers who had green-lit the major projects would not live long enough to see the fruits of their labors. Like the work of the pharaohs in the building of pyramids, understanding they would not see the end purpose of their commissions. They were to be but cogs in the noble enterprise that would be enjoyed by future generations. There was, however, as it turned out, enough profit to be made in the interim steps to Martian utopia to satisfy the coffers of many companies. No one was about to go broke, or volunteer financial martyrdom simply for the sake of the future.

Drinkwine noticed that the craters of Mars were becoming more defined. The shuttle was quietly and seamlessly descending toward the red planet, aligning itself for piercing of the thin veil of atmosphere that had blossomed on the remote outpost. With but a trifle of vibration the shuttle broke through, introducing the organic weight of gravity to the craft as it dove toward the Martian surface, bringing the landscape into view amidst a murmur of enthusiasm from the other travelers.

Drinkwine allowed himself one last boyish pleasure of wonder before the demands of maturity required in dealing with murder consumed him. Staring out the small porthole the jagged mountains and reaches of red plain came more sharply into focus with each hundred meters of descent. Drinkwine saw the shadow of the shuttle skirting the mountains in the distance race across the barren flats to meet the descending craft. An infant cried out in confusion against the build of pressure in its tiny ears.

The whir of the landing gear locking into place and the hydraulic hum of flaps lowering was met with a soft alighting upon the perfectly groomed landing strip that stretched for five kilometers. The G-forces of deceleration pressed reassuringly against the travelers. The shuttle’s vortices unspooled spiraling pyres of red dust behind that spun off into the barrenness to die. The craft slowed to taxiing speed and steered toward a small terminal, the only structure in sight on the plain. Detective Drinkwine had arrived on Mars.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 3

THE JETWAY WAS THINNING of passengers. Drinkwine had waited for the shuttle to empty before making his way into the terminal. Brushing past in a hurried state, disheveled by the lingering motion sickness, the Asian businessman nervously spoke to himself in his native tongue. He held his briefcase under his arm protectively, scurrying off and disappearing into the turn of the aluminum tunnel.

Opening onto the lavish first class lobby, the terminal was streaked with rays of afternoon sun pouring through the elaborate architecture of metal support beams. Most of Drinkwine’s traveling companions had already dispersed, just a few remnant passengers eyeing goods in the display cabinets of shops that lined the terminal corridor.

Gusts of wind pelted the glass walls of the terminal with lashings of sand. Man had altered Mars’ atmosphere. In so doing they had brought about significant changes evidently immune to speculation. Virtually every prediction the science community had made—with their erudition echoed by the politicians—proved to be wrong. The winds had not ceased, but in fact had proliferated. The climate had not stabilized (“reminiscent of the Mediterranean”), instead resembling the extremes of Death Valley in California, with stifling heat and bitter cold. Most perplexing was the planet slowly taking on the same gravitational properties as Earth, upsetting all the hype of Mars providing a less strenuous, and therefore, “life-extending” atmosphere. Nothing was at all like what science had promised.

As a result the marketing materials slowly excised all references to Mars being a perfect place to retire—due the reduced effort required to move about—and focused their attention on the planet’s exploitable resource: land. The marketing firms had seamlessly glided over the previous promises and were now steering the public’s interest with proposals of land ownership and attractive appreciation rates—as evidenced in the wall-to-wall advertisements that lined the terminal. Just the thing to seduce gullible humans away from the morbid realities of outlandish real estate prices on the Earth and Moon.

Waiting at the end of a run of velvet ropes, dressed in a finely tailored suit of aqua silk, a white Ascot tied neatly about his neck, stood a slight man of East Indian blood. He had a pretentious upper class mannerism of clutching his monogrammed handkerchief close to the chest. He wore large, black-rimmed glasses fitted with thick lens that magnified the beautiful almond eyes of his race.

“Mr. Drinkwine?” the little man inquired with a refined English accent (remnant of education in the now defunct United Kingdom) and a pleasant smile of perfect white teeth—implants most likely, common among the affluent. “I’m Mr. Kurian, Ambassador to the Mars colony. Welcome to Jannah.” Offering his delicate brown hand.

Drinkwine took note of the immaculately manicured and polished fingernails. The man had never used his hands for anything so much as labor in his life. Drinkwine immediately disliked him. After politely correcting him, “Detective Drinkwine,” he shook the Ambassador’s hand.

“Pardon me,” Kurian acquiesced, “but I’m curious, is Drinkwine your actual name?”

Drinkwine was accustomed to this. After all, with everything that a name like Drinkwine conjured, it was to be expected. “Yes, it is,” he came back, his eyes staying fixed on the Ambassador, waiting to see if the inquiry was to be followed by the inevitable remarks people made, believing they were being clever or original.

When the small brown man leaned in to allow him to speak in a whisper, Drinkwine was overcome with a strong dose of cologne. Kurian raised the handkerchief effeminately to his cheek, like a gossiping woman in a salon, “When I saw the manifest I thought, being an official police investigation, perhaps it was a code name.” Kurian seemed to enjoy the notion of intrigue and giggled girlishly, stifling his laugh with the handkerchief.

“Family name,” Drinkwine said curtly.

“My driver is waiting,” Kurian offered with an efficiency of nature, “we’ll take you to get settled into your room at the Science Center,” adding with an approving turn of the head, “a very nice room.”

“Ambassador,” Drinkwine responded, leveling his gaze, “I’d prefer to get started immediately.”

The tone surprised Kurian, absently slowing him in his stride, as if this simple change in his plans confused things. “I’ve made the journey several times, Detective,” Kurian said, arm still poised demurely with the handkerchief. “Surely you must be tired. Why not rest?”

“I’ve done nothing but rest for six weeks,” Drinkwine spoke with simmering agitation. “They said you would clear my service weapon without any delay.”

Again Kurian seemed put off balance, unaccustomed to being addressed in this manner—especially by a white. “Yes,” he came back after a long pause, as if assessing how each turn of word now would set the foundation for their future relationship. He finished his thought, his surprised almond eyes made all the more large by the lens of his glasses, “all arranged, just as soon as it is removed from the cargo hold of the shuttle.”

Drinkwine stared at the Ambassador, intimidating the little man. Kurian turned on his heel and began to walk the polished tile floor, Drinkwine stepping in alongside.

“Where do you want to go?” Kurian asked uneasily, as if Drinkwine’s request was an inconvenience.

“To see the body,” Drinkwine answered, the aluminum brief, the cartons of Hollands and his small suitcase in hand, walking with urgency, “then the location where the body was found.”

“Well, to get out there you need a rover,” Kurian said absently.

“A request for a rover was put in weeks ago by the department,” Drinkwine asserted, “to be made available upon my arrival.”

“Yes, well,” the Ambassador came back flippantly, “since that time the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia has arrived for a wedding. All available rovers have been procured for them and their family’s needs.”

Drinkwine stopped dead in his tracks. When Kurian stopped, the detective spoke with an authority that further troubled the already beleaguered Ambassador. “That needs to be rectified. This is official business.”

Kurian cocked his head slightly, regarding the stranger—a prominent official from Earth arrived to conduct an investigation—as if trying to find cracks in an otherwise perfect façade. “I’ll see to it.”

They were interrupted by a uniformed, Middle Eastern security guard carrying a small strongbox. The officer was slight in physique, his perfectly pressed uniform two sizes too large for him. He studied Drinkwine with uncertainty. Kurian spoke to the man in Urdu. Drinkwine caught only fleeting words in the rapid-fire exchange. The officer wanted to make sure that the Ambassador had the approval of handing over the weapon to a white. Bits and pieces of the exchange ascertained that Kurian was putting the officer at ease, assuring him that; Yes, the gun was to be handed over to this white man. With trepidation the officer unlocked the door to a small office, turning for final approval from Kurian, who reassured with a nod of the head.

The three men entered the small station room, locking the door behind. The officer then unlocked the strongbox revealing a service handgun and a well-used leather shoulder holster. The officer handed it over to Kurian, who, acting as if it might soil his hands, quickly handed it to Drinkwine. The detective took the handgun, adeptly turning the battery-powered weapon on to check its charge. The needle was just touching the lower portion of the green scale. Removing his linen jacket, Drinkwine donned the shoulder holster, drawing the straps snug against his aging body, sliding the weapon in and securing it. The holster was old school, but Drinkwine had gotten used to it, the same way he’d gotten used to a lot of now defunct aspects of his work. He often wondered if he was too sentimental for this job.

Kurian and the officer watched as Drinkwine pulled his jacket on, smoothing the fine linen over the slight bulge of holster to help conceal it. He met eyes with the two men who were still marveling at the rare sight of a weapon.

“Shall we?” Drinkwine proffered, to snap them out of their trance.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 4

THE AMBASSADOR’S LIMO SWOOSHED down the main avenue of the budding metropolis of Jannah, sharing the six lanes of perfectly poured pavement with sparse few other vehicles. The city construct was comprised of but a small crosshatch of wide avenues that went nowhere, the six lane thoroughfares merely vague promises of a future of fast and efficient commuting. For now they ended abruptly in barricades of flashing warning lights with only desert beyond. The city planners were optimistic. They foresaw a time when these roads would connect the whole of the planet in a bustling of superhighways.

Feeling the eyes of the driver on him in the rearview mirror, Drinkwine gazed out the window at the blur of industry. Everywhere he looked construction cranes were in motion. Jannah was a metropolis being born out of the oblivion of the vast Martian landscape. The clatter and stamp of hydraulic hammers resounded through the steel canyons with the imperious cry of progress. An urgent pace busily crafting a city out of the desert to accommodate the coming settlers of the red planet. From the arid, barren plains, skyscrapers of glass and steel were rising up, coaxed out of the nothingness, a strangely incongruous patch of modernity among the oceans of sand and rock. Armies of workers, mostly white, like him, toiled in tasks of physical labor on the open floors. The sparks of welding on the upper levels cascaded the structures like white-hot waterfalls pouring into canyons of concrete and steel. In the passing slivers of space between the buildings the red sands of Mars were visible just beyond the pale. The majestic structures met the undisturbed sands of Mars in an abrupt collision with antiquity.

“Look, Detective Drinkwine,” Kurian spoke, his delicate hand gesturing proudly the view of the advancing metropolis, “the future.” He smiled broadly, repeating enthusiastically, “The future,” as he snatched the air with his delicate hand, his perfect white teeth clinched with pride.

Drinkwine’s gaze drifted back onto the burgeoning city. It was impressive, no doubt. He considered the immense gambles of corporate fortunes being poured into the red planet to secure a foothold in this new frontier. He considered the hopes of so many humans that would make the costly, dangerous trek across space to find new lives here. There was a great deal riding on this. The grand experiment of the Moon had long been eclipsed by the sad realities of its close proximity to Earth, being too easily attained by too many. It was already showing signs of bursting at the seams. And the Earth? The Earth had suffered the changes that had long been predicted and was struggling under cataclysmic overpopulation. Twenty billion inhabitants and growing. Humanity, spilling out over onto the Moon, into every conceivable patch of lunar ground. Twenty-five billion humans in total, all in search of a life. The next logical step was Mars. The powerbrokers were betting on it. And they were intent on not repeating the mistakes they’d made now on two previous planets.

Find a new life on crime free Mars. That’s what the marketing materials were so ardently proffering. Life, Drinkwine thought to himself. It’s what all of this reaching into the cosmos was about. However, it was the circumstance of death that had brought him here. The unfortunate incident threatened to undo a lot of the utopian promise that was being orchestrated. Intrinsically, Drinkwine knew there was brewing concern behind many boardroom doors about how the news of a murder could undermine their folly, their fortunes, the ‘future.’ He knew they would be watching him, his every move. He also knew that this man beside him, this Kurian, with his overly pleasant demeanor and accommodating manner, had in fact been dispatched by the powers that be to keep an eye on things, and certainly to report back to them. His every movement, his every action was certain to be conveyed to others.

“Your book precedes you, Detective,” Kurian said, brushing an invisible piece of lint from his aqua silk trousers. “I understand that between the Moon and the Earth there are more than three million copies in circulation. That must have made you well, hmm?”

“The majority of copies in circulation were pirated,” Drinkwine responded dryly. Adding, accusatorily, “The same way they were pirated here.”

“Well,” Kurian began with a chuckle, “being that there are no copyright laws on Mars, you can hardly accuse us of piracy.”

The car continued down the avenue, the tires humming against the pavement, filling the quiet. Mention of his book stirred Drinkwine’s thoughts. It had been said that he had authored the most comprehensive study of the modern era on the mind of a killer. The book had become a bestseller, enjoying multiple re-issues each time a new murder fascinated the public. The homicides—provided they possessed some unseemly brutality or unspeakable perversion—always sparked the public’s interest, the murderers themselves enjoying their own celebrity, sharing the same kind of popularity as that of pop stars and video games. The more gruesome and hideous the murder, the greater the celebrity.

Faddish nature of the public aside, his book, The Alchemy of Murder, was a respected Bible among law enforcement and criminal pathologists. The book was a first-hand study of the nature, mindset, and motivation of a murderer, putting forward the theory that modern man had evolved past primal impulse. Modern man had reasoning. Therefore, each murder was bound by some construct of reason, arguing the perspective that there must be motivation, however substantial or brutally trivial. But behind each murder was a calculated motive.

“Hmm,” Kurian broke the long silence, returning to his previous train of thought. “The Alchemy of Murder,’ I suppose most believed it to be a murder mystery. Not a tome devoted to the dryness of forensic science.”

Drinkwine understood then that Kurian had read his book. He purposely didn’t indulge the opening to more conversation, feeling the Ambassador’s eyes on him.

Kurian was still trying to assess the stranger. “You contend that modern man has evolved past the base, primal responses of his nature, is that true?” Crossing his legs and turning his slight body to face him.

Drinkwine was not a man given to banal conversations, choosing instead to play his cards close to the chest with a good deal of silence. “Ambassador, I’m here to solve a crime, not discuss the psychology of man.”

“Yes,” Kurain spoke with a hint of bewilderment. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Our first crime.”

The comment surprised Drinkwine. “Surely you’ve had crimes perpetrated here, Ambassador.”

Kurian looked out the window at the blur of heavy industry that was raising the grand towers into the sky and responded smugly, “No, none.” The little brown man saw that Drinkwine was not believing him. “Yes, it’s true. There has been no crime on Mars—not among the decents anyway. You see, Detective, by preventing the introduction of alcohol, pornography, and guns to Mars, we prevent the seeds of unsocial behavior from being sewn, and by not allowing the tools of violence, we eliminate the incidence of violence.”

Drinkwine studied Kurian as he stared out the window of the limo at the rushing scenery, wondering if he truly believed what he was saying. He turned and looked out his own window at the blurring landscape.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 5

THE THICK DOOR OF the restaurant’s freezer was pulled back by one of the restaurant staff, wafting clouds of frosted air into the kitchen. Busboys and waiters banged in and out of the swinging doors, uninterested. The novelty of the body being deposited here for lack of a proper morgue had waned over the previous weeks. The dishwashers, all white like Drinkwine, continued their work, more curious about him and his suit than the circumstance of murder that had worn off its sheen of newness. They watched passively as Drinkwine pulled on latex gloves before pushing aside the drapes of plastic strips that served to keep the chilled air from escaping, and entered the cold climes of the walk-in freezer. Kurian hesitantly followed.

Weaving between hanging carcasses of raw red meat, Drinkwine followed the worker who led him toward the back of the freezer. They arrived at where the body of Michael Byrne had been stored. Wrapped in an opaque sheet of plastic, covered with a layer of frost, it was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding bags of produce. After an exchange of glances between the three, Kurian dismissed the kitchen worker with a tacit nod of the head.

Drinkwine regarded Kurian with a disapproving look as to the use of the restaurant freezer for keeping the body.

“We had little choice but to bring it here,” Kurian said in defense. “There’s nowhere else where we could preserve it.”

“Certainly you will need some facility in the future to handle these types of situations,” Drinkwine said as he made study of the frozen features of the body.

“Mr. Drinkwine…” Kurian began.

“…Detective,” Drinkwine said without looking up.

“Detective,” Kurian corrected, “when people arrive to Mars they sign agreements and a lengthy contract. If they are to die, their bodies are immediately cremated. Therefore, we have no reason to build facilities to handle such things. This is a most unique circumstance.”

Kneeling to the frozen bundle of plastic, Drinkwine used a rag to swat away rat droppings.

“What is that?” Kurian asked curiously.

“Rat turds,” Drinkwine answered.

“Oh, I’m afraid you’re mistaken Detective,” Kurian came back, humored, “we have no rats on Mars.”

The comment went in Drinkwine’s ear and out the other as he forcibly cracked back the frozen folds of plastic, revealing the outstretched arm, frozen in rigor mortis, the fingers pointing skyward. Kurian absently took a step back at sight of the alabaster skin, drawing his collar closed against the cold and sobering aspect of being in such close proximity to death.

Drinkwine discerned his uneasiness without looking. “If this disturbs you, you can wait outside.”

Kurian didn’t answer, leaning slightly to see around Drinkwine.

Continuing to unwrap the decomposed corpse, Drinkwine drew his bifocals from his jacket, making a rudimentary overview of the frozen cadaver as he wiped the fogged lens. “Who has access to this freezer?”

“Just the kitchen staff,” Kurian slowly ushered out, his breath clouding.

“Who brought the body here?” The question went unanswered. Drinkwine turned to see Kurian cringing at sight of the gaping hole that once was a face, the skull partially filled with grains of fine red sand.

The Ambassador was pulled from his stare. He looked queasy. His response came slowly. “Several maintenance workers.”

Drinkwine studied Kurian. The Ambassador’s repulsion to the body seemed to exonerate him in Drinkwine’s mind; one less suspect. “I’ll need to speak with them.”

“The workers? What for? They merely…,” but Kurian’s words stopped there as Drinkwine bent to peer into the gaping hole of skull.

“No next of kin?” Drinkwine asked under his breath.

“No,” Kurian responded, staring in fascination at the strands of hair hanging down over the missing forehead, wafting slightly on the unseen currents of the freezer.

With an unexpectedly gentle touch, Drinkwine traced his fingers over the brittle gray skin of the victim’s forearms. First one, then the other. Pushing the frozen plastic aside with a crack, a cascade of ice fell and shattered against the floor. Drinkwine then repeated the tenderness of touch on the neck of the corpse.

“I’d like to speak to his supervisor,” Drinkwine, continuing his strangely gentle probing, “as well as his fellow workers.”

“Must you?” the Ambassador fired back. “They won’t have anything to say.”

Drinkwine turned and looked at Kurian sharply, “Ambassador, I’ll be needing to talk to a lot of people.” The words spilled out into the freezer as firm declaration. “When did his employer first notice he was absent?”

Kurian sighed, “They aren’t sure. About seven or eight weeks ago.”

“What about his time cards or work records?” Drinkwine asked.

“There are a great many workers on Mars, Detective, it’s difficult to track all of their whereabouts,” Kurian offered up defensively.

Drinkwine returned to his contemplative study of the faceless corpse. “His employment papers, his background check, surely there’s someone who might have some information.”

“Detective,” Kurian began with an air of tired wisdom, “as with most of the low-level workers, anything in his file is likely to be a lie; his family, his faith. We know his name was a lie. It’s what they do.”

Drinkwine held for a moment on Kurian’s words. ‘“They?’”

“Yes, the Americans,” the Ambassador shot back unapologetically. He saw Drinkwine register disapproval. “It’s the reality, Detective,” the Ambassador retorted. “The mines, the platforms, all are in need of unskilled labor. The Americans are eager for the opportunity. They’re the only ones who will work for the wages offered. As a result, the hiring firms tend not to scrutinize the background checks.”

“How many of the Roches firearms are on Mars?” Drinkwine asked.

“Six,” Kurian came back. “Only five accounted for presently.”

“When did the murder weapon go missing?”

“Heavens knows,” Kurian said with indignation. “We are a colony of scientists, of investors, of builders. There is little concern, or time, for the tracking of handguns.”

“I’ll need to see the names of all of those who had access to the weapons,” Drinkwine said curtly.

“It will serve little purpose,” Kurian responded absently. “The only people with clearances that would put them in the proximity of the weapons are all official personnel. I’m certain the weapon was got through thievery.”

Drinkwine slowly looked back over his shoulder, repeating, “I’ll need the names of all those who had access to the weapons.”

“Come now, Detective,” Kurian, unfamiliar with being spoken to in this manner, responded defiantly, “we’re not barbarians.” Teetering back and forth nervously, he stared at Drinkwine a long moment before asking, “And what do you hope to uncover with all of this?”

Drinkwine turned to him, surprised at the question. “A man has been murdered. Someone committed that murder. I intend to find out who it was and why they did it, then arrest them so that the judicial system can try them.”

Kurian pouted, wrapping his arms around himself in an animated gesture, like a child who is not getting his way. He shot back. “Surely this was just some petty squabble between workers.”

Drinkwine cocked his head slightly, “Why would you think that?”

“Who else?” the Ambassador came back, somewhat perturbed.

“Who knows? This could be linked to some malfeasance or corruption at the corporate level,” Drinkwine spoke, studying the body.

“Oh,” the little Ambassador said, waving his hand dismissively, adding with absolute conviction, “I am certain this is between workers.”

“Really,” Drinkwine said, “You’re ‘certain?’”

“Who else? Why? To what end?” Kurian shot back.

“Money, property, narcotics, sex,” the detective rattled off, “you name it.” He looked at the frozen corpse. “Maybe a squabble among workers, as you say, or, perhaps an elaborately orchestrated homicide to silence someone. But rest assured, Mr. Byrne was murdered for a reason.”

The freezer seemed to be getting colder. Kurian, as if hesitant to break Drinkwine from his contemplation of the dead body—pitifully faceless and frozen in the plastic—offered up softly, “Are you just about done here?”

The words elicited a nod. Drinkwine respectfully folded the frozen sheet of plastic over the corpse before stiffly rising, pulling off his glasses along with the latex gloves. He became slightly lightheaded, reaching out to a shelf for support.

“It’s the atmosphere,” Kurian offered, “it takes some getting used to. Equivalent to being at 3,500 meters elevation on Earth. You’d best be advised to refrain from moving too quickly or over-exerting yourself.”

The brewing tension and uncertainty between the two men was interrupted by the appearance of a rat that crept up to the open freezer door. They both watched as it raised itself up on one of its front paws to quizzically sniff the air before darting back into the kitchen.

    ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Chapter 6

IT WAS NEAR DUSK when the limo delivered Drinkwine to the Science Center. The complex had been built to house the visiting scientists, researchers, engineers and executives, with a tawdry elegance more befitting a casino.

The driver had retrieved Drinkwine’s travel bag from the trunk, placing it on the walk under the massive façade of the center. Drinkwine took in the opulent entranceway as he emerged from the back of the limo, his aluminum brief and the two cartons of Hollands in hand. The driver swung the door closed and with efficient purpose returned to the driver’s seat.

The tinted rear window slid down. Kurian pushed across the leather seat to address Drinkwine. “Your rover will be ready at 9:00am, Detective,” he offered.

Collecting up his travel bag, Drinkwine responded dryly, “Thank you.” And on that he turned and moved toward the lobby.

Kurian watched after him for a moment, face registering uneasiness to this stranger who had arrived with an agenda that threatened to unsettle the careful routine of the planet. The electric window silently rose to tint out the world.

From afar the Science Center was a sprawling marvel of grandeur, integrating steel and glass in arching sweeps of impressive design. But as Drinkwine drew closer to the front doors the structure took on another persona. The building had an unfinished look about it, as if the carpenters had gone off to some other duty mid-task and forgotten to return. The decorative urns were full of dry dirt, awaiting greenery. The impressive columns were scarred with dried oozings of hardened cement, which had seeped between the gaps in the shoddy wood plank molds during construction. The gold trim of the glass doors was unevenly screwed. Inside, the lobby continued this strange continuity of dubious construct. The carpet had been cut irregularly, the misaligned edges at the wall joints revealing moist swaths of rough cement beneath. A halfhearted attempt had been made to conceal the shoddiness behind velvet curtains and potted plants. In one place, the glass of a large window was so ill-fitted as to allow breezes to pass through at the sill juncture.

As Drinkwine crossed the open expanse of the lobby that towered impressively overhead, he wondered about the structural integrity of the building. Standing at attention behind the registration counter, four dark-skinned employees in matching uniforms welcomed Drinkwine, wearing broad smiles and echoing a chorus of hellos, which did not fully conceal their curiosity.

The suite, situated on the fourteenth floor, had a generous view. A large bed dominated, set with a dozen pillows piled high against a somewhat garish headboard of swirling gold trim. The room was bathed in the orange glow of a Martian sunset, the distant reaches of desert clouded with a thin haze of airborne dust that diffused the setting sun to a dull red ball, just touching the horizon.

Drinkwine set his travel bag down on the thick shag carpet, placing the aluminum brief on the desk, the cartons of cigarillos alongside. He flicked on the light of the bathroom to reveal smooth tile and a glass enclosed shower with gold fixtures.

As he crossed the room to the sliding glass door, Drinkwine grabbed the remote and by routine switched on the large flat screen television. It was set to the hotel channel where a looping video showed beautiful, well-dressed Egyptian, Indian, Pakistani and Iranian couples enjoying the amenities; the stately lobby; the opulent guest rooms; fine dining in the restaurant; swimming in both the indoor and outdoor Olympic pools.

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