Eden Two: Resettlement

Brook Panati was attracted to power like an iron filing to a lodestone, and uncommitted power attracted him even more. Young as he was, he was an ambitious man, and while the chaos that had nearly destroyed Eden had caused him grief and hardship, it had also created opportunities for him.

Before the disaster, he was only a student, working part-time as an engineer's assistant, and third in line for an apprenticeship. Now, with skilled bodies in such short supply, he had a position of authority, a title (“Operations Foreman,” necessarily vague to cover the number of job holes he had to help fill), and a small power domain of his own.

He enjoyed all this, but he wasn't satisfied with it. He'd seen the shifting of power that had resulted with the emergency relocation of the colony, and the death of the Council and Chairman Nguyen. There had been a mad scramble to grab the seats of power and reestablish order. Someone else might simply have described it as an attempt to restore organization and prevent panic, but to his eyes it was something else entirely: a game. A game he wanted very badly to play.

For now though, he was stuck on the sidelines, more an interested observer than a participant. So it was in watching the struggle for power and authority that his attention was drawn to Axen Moon.

Moon was something of a legendary figure, the last of Eden's Elders, the last alive to have walked on the soil of old Earth. To some that made him an almost God-like personage, his opinions sought, his endorsements valued. Certainly he could have had any position of authority he wanted, and yet he remained aloof, both personally and politically.

Moon's Elder status didn't impress Brook, not for its own sake at least. To him, Moon was just an old man, by Eden standards anyway, who had those around him cowed. But Brook was fascinated by the power that status represented, and how Moon's aloof nature only added to his authority. He had seen that while titles and authority gave one power, they also came with restrictions and limitations. Whatever power Moon possessed, he wielded it as a free agent, answerable to no one Brook could see.

But while he might not be answerable, it was just possible that he might be influenced in some way, perhaps through an exchange of favors. Everyone needed or wanted something in the best of times, and now even more so. If Axen Moon needed something, Brook was determined to find out about it.

Thus, he started making an effort to stay close to Moon, which wasn't difficult, considering the horribly crowded conditions of the recently relocated colony. Even the new Council members lacked private quarters. Hammocks were slung in workplaces, bedrolls put down end to end along both sides of the few tunnels. Technicians napped in the Command Center between double shifts.

Moon was no exception. His importance granted him an actual bunk in a fairly low-traffic hallway off the Agridome, but even there he had no privacy to speak of, only a curtain that could be pulled around the bunk.

What Brook lacked in importance, he made up for in cunning. He began trading small favors for larger ones, a maintenance schedule moved up for someone's convenience, a reallocation of the material resources under his control, trading a shift with a co-worker here, making a timely delivery there. It took time and determination, but Brook soon had his berth relocated to the corridor junction only a few yards from Moon's.

In fact, the bed was harder than his old one, and only a little quieter, but it was the location he was interested in. From there, he would be able to determine what Axen Moon most wanted, and how he would be able to provide it to the Elder.

He began making observations as soon as he moved to the new location. He set his wrist-comp to wake him early, but rather than getting up, he remained under his blanket and waited for Moon to emerge. When Moon did, Brook would follow him, discreetly, and only as his own schedule allowed. It took him several days, but something of a routine started to appear.

Each morning began with an hour of exercise in the Agridome: first, vigorous calisthenics, some kind of martial art Brook didn't recognize, then jogging around the dome perimeter. If Brook had any illusions that age made the Elder weak, they were dashed.

He followed this with a shower. Moon never seemed to lack for ration points of any kind. Then he made his rounds of the colony. The purpose of these rounds wasn't immediately clear. Mostly he just wound his way through the crowded corridors and tunnels, watching everyone, but never making eye contact, rarely talking with anyone.

His occasional conversations took place in the shadows, as close to privacy as could be arranged in the current circumstances. In these conversations, things would occasionally change hands, probably the source of Moon's ration points, and often data-slips and keycards were involved. Information was obviously a commodity that Moon valued highly. But Moon generally came away from these meetings looking unsatisfied. Sometimes, heated words were exchanged.

These occasions made Brook smile. They indicated a need, an unscratched itch that could be exploited. He just had to identify the source of that irritation.

Beyond this, Moon kept no regular schedule. Though he had no official job, he did his share of colony work, demonstrating skills in basic engineering, several fields of science, boptronics in general, and computers especially.

It wasn't clear how these work assignments came to him, but Brook noticed that they always allowed him to work alone. This isn't a man who will be easy to get close to.

One day, as he sat eating in the hallway outside the operations center, he was surprised to see Moon stroll up, making a conscious effort not to look conspicuous. Anyone not watching Moon as Brook was wouldn't have noticed a thing. But he sauntered up to the closed door into the building, looking at it with a curious longing in his eyes, as though he wanted to step inside, and couldn't. Then, just that quickly, the expression glazed over, and Moon turned and walked away.

There's something in there he wants badly. I have to find out what it is. He returned to his shift distracted and deep in thought. That evening he contrived to run into an old school chum named Della, who was now working in the CC. When she seemed little interested in engaging in conversation, he told her about the small jug of beer he had stashed in his locker, the equivalent of a month's ration for workers like them, and invited her to share it with him. She immediately agreed.

It wasn't flattering to be upstaged by a few pints of ale, but Brook knew the dangers of false pride. He had no interest in this woman beyond information anyway.

Brook's work included coordinating building setup with colony operations, and so he had access to the Structure Factory. He let them in with his keycard and they wound their way up narrow stairs and catwalks to a seldom-used control balcony. It wasn't a romantic setting, sitting on a salvaged vehicle seat that some workers had dragged up there for their breaks, smelling adhesives and hot metal, listening to the whirring of robots and the crackles of welding in the assembly bay below.

Romance wasn't what either of them had in mind though, and it was as private as he could manage. The occasional worker who wandered through paid them little attention, and the noise kept them from being overheard. The view was entertaining as well, as the robots performed their intricate dance among welding sparks and showers of flying plastic chips.

Brook poured most of the beer out into two large cups and handed one to Della. She sipped it, and after swishing it around for a while, smiled.

“A guy I know in the Agridome - Jix - makes it from stuff he cleans out of the grain processors after a run. It's not on the ration inventory, and every once in a while he trades some for a favor.”

“It's good. I'm surprised you'd share it.” She made eye contact with him, and he caught a flash of suspicion there.

“I'm not a big drinker. Mainly I use it for barter. But I was thinking the other day how few of my old schoolmates were left.” The suspicion in her eyes turned immediately to sadness. He'd touched something there. Clearly she'd remained closer to her classmates than he had, and many of them had been lost in the disaster. “I decided it was time to look some of you up and have a chat.”

From there, she fell naturally into conversation. They talked for hours, long after the beer was gone, about old friends and new, adventures large and small, with Brook carefully avoiding the one subject he wanted most to ask about.

Finally, they came back to talking about work and Brook saw his opportunity. “I saw Elder Moon outside the CC today. Do you see much of him there?”

Della wrinkled her nose and laughed. “Sometimes. Quite a bit really. He always has some legitimate business, a repair to do, or a program to update, or a transmitter to calibrate, but I think he really comes just to visit his computer.”

“Computer?”

“His personal Savant. All the Elders had them from their days on the starship, and they were allowed to keep them out of respect, I guess. But after the disaster, Savants were in short supply, and they appropriated his for the CC. He made a huge stink about it with the Council, but there wasn't much he could say, really.”

“He comes to visit it?”

“He touches it. Talks with it sometimes, in whispers, when he thinks nobody is listening, which isn't often, as busy as the CC is.

“Me, I'd just as soon he took Kraft back - that's its name, Kraft. It works well enough, but it's a creepy old thing, one of the first Savants made on the starship, and it's gotten really eccentric.” She giggled. “It talks down to us. I think it thinks it's smarter than we are. Thing is, I'm not sure it isn't right.”

That's it. The key to Axen Moon is that computer. Now I just have to find a way to get them back together.

Brook took the long way back to his berth and noticed that Moon wasn't in bed yet. Unusual, he wasn't generally a night owl. Brook looked longingly at his bunk and decided it would have to wait.

He wandered the tunnels of the colony, hoping to spot Moon. There was a lot of ground to cover, but knowing what he did now, he chose to focus his attention on the area of the CC. At first he had no luck, then he decided to try a narrow maintenance corridor off one of the connecting tunnels. The corridor was barely a meter wide, and he had to step carefully over a couple of people in sleeping bags.

Deeper in the tunnel, crates of supplies lined one wall and he had to crab sideways to get past. Supply conduits lining the ceiling thumped like the slow beating of some monster's heart. He moved slowly, peering cautiously ahead. Then he spotted Moon working, a service panel pulled away from the wall.

Brook ducked down behind a crate, hoping he hadn't been seen. He waited there for several minutes, then cautiously peered over the crate. Moon was gone, though the panel remained open, and a boptronic tool kit was spread out on the deck below. Brook moved from his hiding place to make a closer inspection.

The panel had a security warning label on it and a coded lock, but it hadn't been forced. Inside, armored conduits ran like metal snakes into a junction box with another security lock. Connected to the lock was a seemingly handmade boptronic device that he didn't recognize. It was a safe guess that at least some of those conduits ran to the Command Center above them.

He was bending for a closer look when a shadow dropped from the bank of conduits suspended above him. Powerful hands grabbed the front of his jumpsuit, lifting him off his feet and slamming his back painfully against the wall next to the panel.

From down the corridor, a sleepy voice yelled for them to keep it down.

As Brook tried to catch his breath, his feet held dangling a few inches off the floor, he realized that even his revised assessment of Moon's physical condition had underestimated him.

He looked into the Elder's face, only a few inches from his own, the features angry but carefully controlled. “All right, Brook Panati, you've been following me. I want to know why. Now.” Brook had obviously underestimated him in other ways, too.

Brook ignored the question and smiled, moving his eyes toward the open panel. “That's a very dangerous thing you're trying to do there. What are the chances you can tap into the CC's internal computer network without being detected?”

Something in Moon's face changed, as though he were reassessing Brook. “Better than you think.”

“But not good. You must want access very badly to take such a risk. There are other ways.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can give you access to your computer, without all this risk.”

Moon just looked at him silently, and Brook had the feeling that those dark eyes could see right through him. Then he slowly lowered Brook's feet to the floor and released his grip. “We'll talk, but you'd better not try to trick me. Never trick the trickster.”

Brook straightened his jumpsuit and smiled for show. It didn't matter how perceptive Moon was, he'd been telling the truth. He fully intended to give him his computer back.

The problem was, Brook didn't have the slightest idea how.

Written by J. Steven York.


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  • Last modified: 2017/07/29 23:11
  • by vagabond