Proof of Life, Part 4

6 Aug

May 12, 2121

On arrival at Deimos, Captain Tsuvecki was pleased to find that the price for antimony had recently spiked. Her clusterroid sold for almost twice what she’d expected. She used most of her profits to purchase some land to retire to on her return: 12 hectares of unimproved land 15 kilometers outside of the smallest Martian settlement, Cuidad del Cortez. She then set up automatic property tax payments to MarsGov through her Mars Bank account.

She took Motherlode to the shipyards on Phobos and turned her over to the modification crew recommended by Sir Zuberi. When Hidaya handed the crew leader her list of requested modifications and the credit transfer authorization provided by Nassor, the crew leader’s eyebrows climbed to his hairline.

“Mon Dieu! What did you find out there, Cherie? The Holy Grail?”

Hidaya let the folds of her burkha slip, exposing her scars and causing the man to visibly wince and avert his gaze. Professing boredom, she sighed and gave him her cover story: “Oh, my last find was a nice clusterroid, full of antimony.” The man whistled sharply, still not making eye contact. Hidaya continued, “But these mods are for a think-tank science survey.” She tapped the list with her forefinger. “I’ll be gone at least a decade, doing information gathering for a brain trust that wants to prove the asteroid belt was once a planet. Can you believe they even want me to check for evidence outside the elliptical plane? That will add years to the survey and take me out of range of the refueling stations.” She shrugged and added, “At least they agreed to all these mods. And they pay well….”

The crew leader shook his head in sympathy and studied her list. “We can have all the mechanical mods done in about three months, more or less, but you’ll have to stock the bio-gardens and purchase your seed supplies and other items yourself. Try the Benedictine abbey at New Pisa. They specialize in modifying plants for spaceships.”

Captain Tsuvecki thanked the man, gave him her contact information, and took a shuttle planetside. Mars had a population of nearly a million now since low gravity made it a popular choice for retirees with resources. How was she to cope for three months around so many people? She seldom remained more than a day or so on the surface after bringing in an asteroid before the press of people pushed her back into space.

Her first move was making an appointment with a psychiatric physician. She’d need a sedative to sleep regularly. Her second step was renting a secure sleeping cube in Dragon Dome Inn. She deposited her personal items in the tiny room and left to find a virtual arcade where she could successfully ignore the press of people and check out the newest games.

Five hours later, she pried herself away from the VR console. Mission to Mercury was merely okay, but Sundiver was definitely addictive! Still, her stomach told her firmly that it was time to eat. She splurged on some swai, a Chinese catfish that had adapted well to the new Martian oceans. She always missed meat when she was in space. She shook her head. Thirty years on a vegan diet! Kuzimu! She made a mental note to splurge on beef, if she could find it, before beginning her pre-trip cleanse.

After dinner, she met the doctor, who blanched on reading her records and readily prescribed a mild soporific. After filling the prescription, she returned to her rented cube, took her medication, and started making lists of items she would need to purchase for the journey. She caught herself nodding over her seed list, turned off the lights, and slipped into a mercifully dreamless sleep.

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