In case you weren’t aware, NZ SpecFic Blogging Week is upon us again. I hear you, you’re saying “Hang on, it’s Wednesday already, why haven’t you been blogging then? Huh? Huh?” Well, I’ll stick with the easiest excuse, which is to say that I’ve been in background helping pull all the little strings that got NZSFBW up and running this year, including spooling out the Matrix of Doom and updating the SpecFicNZ website with the various blog posts that have been coming in from around the place.
But I do have a special treat here, and that is a slice of fiction from fellow SpecFicNZ committee member Simon Petrie, the third instalment of a seven-part Gordon Mamon mystery story which involves, among other things, a giant space elevator. So, without further ado, I present:
A Night to Remember
‘A Night to Remember’ is a seven-part story, written for SpecFicNZ Blogging Week 2012.
Part One of this story can be found here. Part Two is here. A full listing of links to the story’s instalments, updated daily, is here.
The twin columns of the space elevator towered like a pair of too-straight giant beanstalks, reaching impossibly up to the clouds … and beyond. The sight seemed always to beguile the elevator’s passengers, arriving on Skyward Island for what might well be their first trip off-Earth. But the elevator shafts, just a few metres wide but tens of thousands of kilometres high, had long since lost their magic so far as Gordon Mamon was concerned. It was just a job, and a job which involved placing a large dollop of trust in a monstrously extended and fundamentally delicate piece of engineering designed to hang upright in exactly the same way that incredibly long lengths of string don’t. If climbing one-twelfth the distance to the Moon in a lightweight, mostly well-designed, and largely airtight building with no real defence against gravity was the sort of thing you enjoyed, then all power to you …
Gordon wasn’t good with heights. Well before he’d reached the top floor of the twenty-storey freight tower, he was feeling shaky.
He’d let himself in on the basement level and was momentarily startled to be confronted by a couple of large wooden crates and a suit of armour, until he remembered this climb’s cargo. Waxworks. He picked his way past the obstacles—they didn’t look like they’d been properly stowed, but Gordon wasn’t freight handling: he was just listed as ‘staff on duty’. He’d put through a call to Freight, in the half-hour that remained before ascent commenced. It’d only take them a couple of minutes to put things right.
Riding the rampway up to ground level, he became glad of the brief scare of seeing the suit of armour … unforewarned, the diorama of vampires, werewolves, and zombies that met him in the building’s foyer could have seriously perturbed him. Now that he knew they were just waxworks, they were robbed of most—not quite all—of their shock value. Moving awkwardly between them, he took the rampway to the next level.
He got another shock when, after two-hundred and seventy-five successive waxworks, he encountered Claudia Iyzowt on the seventeenth-floor landing.
“I’m sorry,” he said, taking a step back from her, thereby knocking a sherriff against a bandit and almost tumbling a gunslinger. “I thought you—”
“Would be taller?” Claudia Iyzowt offered, peering up at him over her lorgnette.
“No, that wasn’t what I—uh, welcome aboard. Is everything to your satisfaction?”
“Near enough. But where do I go to get a cup of coffee?”
Iyzowt’s smile seemed genuine enough, moreso than Col’s; yet Col had sought to make out that the heiress had some form of character defect. Pots, kettles, low albedo, Gordon remarked to himself. Aloud he said, “There’s usually a cafeteria on the second floor. But that’s—let me see, fourteen floors down. Fifteen. If you don’t mind a vending machine, there should be one on this level.”
“Would you recommend the vending machine’s coffee?”
I wouldn’t even recommend the cafeteria’s, thought Gordon. “Yes, it’s … pleasant. Fairly pleasant.”
“Good. Then perhaps you’d join me for a coffee?”
“That sounds—” The building shook. Damn, thought Gordon. It was probably just an automatic tidal correction wave, passing along the cable … but it wouldn’t be too many minutes now until the ascent started. He’d better put through that call to Freight, to get the items in the basement properly stowed. He pulled out his handheld, activated the call. Dead.
How could there be no signal? The freight depot was directly adjacent …
“Is something wrong, Mr Milkman?” Mrs Iyzowt asked, noticing Gordon’s consternation.
“Mamon,” he replied. “No, it’s—why don’t we go track down that coffee?”
They were sitting on a plastiwood bench near the vending machine, each drinking a disposable mug of purported coffee.
“I’m curious,” said Gordon, trying his best not to grimace while he tested, again, whether, like a wine or a cheese, the coffee improved with age. It didn’t. “Why the Moon?”
“I’m afraid I’m not really up with current theories of solar system origin, Mr Mailman.”
“Mamon. Though please call me Gordon. No, what I meant was: why are you looking to relocate a large waxworks museum to the moon?”
“Oh, I won’t deny I’m expecting the move to be financially advantageous, from a tourism perspective,” replied Iyzowt. “Though I’d like to think of myself, of the museum in fact, as a kind of cultural ambassador. We’ve had settlements on the Moon for forty or fifty years now, but don’t you think the place is still lacking in atmosphere?”
“Oh, there’s Lunar Park, in Copernicus, but not much else for tourists anywhere, really. We’ll be setting the museum up in Tycho. Make a change from all those monolithic black office blocks.”
“I hope it works out for you.”
“And it’ll provide a sense of legacy. Which is a bit of a sore point for me, seeing as I was never able to have children.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Gordon, trying to decide if he wasn’t in fact sorrier at having ordered this coffee.
“Oh, it probably would have worked, if we hadn’t had Jeffrey’s tubes tied …”
“My late husband,” she explained. “He had a rare medical condition. And he was wanting so much to be here, on this trip, but … he didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Gordon said again, taking a sip and wincing. “How did it happen?”
“He was in the following aircar, and they ran into turbulence. But I’ll see him again, I suppose, up there.” She cast her eyes heavenward.
Great, thought Gordon, mentally picking his way back through her words. Schrödinger’s Husband. “So when you say ‘late husband’, do you mean—”
But the building—the lift-module—shook, in a ‘Right, let’s get this party started’ kind of way. Claudia Iyzowt flinched, almost dropping her alleged coffee—really, you would have to say it was an opportunity wasted—and Gordon swore.
“Is something wrong, Mr Merkin?”
“Mamon,” replied Gordon. “Uh—no, this is how the ascent always commences.” And indeed, there was a slight augmentation of weight, as the freight tower started to haul itself ponderously up thirty-five-thousand-odd kilometres of a heavily reinforced cable that had never broken yet. “It’s just that I’d been meaning to contact Freight, to get them to secure the load in the basement.”
“Yes. The waxworks on the main floors all looked securely anchored, and there’s a job sheet on each floor confirming the work’s been done to standard, but the items in the basement were loose, and could well be damaged in transit. Plus the load’s supposed to be balanced, to minimise wear on the cable. I’d better go tend to the job myself.”
“Well, that sounds sensible. But what are these items in the basement?”
“Just a couple of crates, and your suit of armour.”
“Armour?” asked Claudia. “I don’t have a suit of armour.”
“Yes, you do,” protested Gordon. “It’s down in the basement.”
“Mr Marlin, if I had a suit of armour, I’d know it.”
“Yes. Do I look like the sort of person who wouldn’t know if I had a suit of armour?”
“Well … uh, what does that sor—”
Claudia was warming to her topic. “I can assure you, there’s no suit of armour in the collection. Waxworks is all about the challenge of presenting the inanimate as living. Where’d be the challenge in a suit of armour?”
“Oh. But if it’s not your …” Gordon felt a sinking sensation, completely overriding the rising sensation of the lift-module as a whole, as the gravity of the situation struck home. That ‘you-will-meet-certain-death’ voice message on the handheld. “Listen, Claudia,” he said, trying not to sound alarmed. “Mrs Iyzowt. I’d better go and check on this. And I’d suggest you please wait in your quarters, and not open the door until I get back.”
“Is there something wrong, Mr Ma—”
“Please. Call me Gordon. And I hope it’s nothing. But I really do need to check this.” He excused himself, and moved rapidly to the downward rampway.
When he reached the basement, he found only the two crates. The suit of armour was missing.
And when he got back to the vending machine, and then checked in Mrs Iyzowt’s quarters, most of her door was missing.
So, too, was Claudia.