‘What’s your excuse?’
Gideon opened one eye and took in the woman next to him. She hadn’t been there when they’d taken off. She appeared distracted, her eyes roaming the cabin for something, someone.
‘Do I need one?’
Briefly she held his gaze, her eyes penetrating. Behind them she appeared to be suppressing a laugh.
‘Everyone here’s escaping something.’
‘See that one? Bigamist. And that one? Ex fraudster.’
Gideon noted the woman’s pointy chin, giving her face a heart-shaped appearance. ‘Should you be telling me, Lieutenant?’
She nodded appreciatively. ‘I know you’re capable of keeping secrets, Gideon.’
He looked quizzical. ‘Very enigmatic.’
‘That’s why I’m Moonbase security. Have to keep you on your toes.’
She held his gaze again. He wondered if the rumours were true and the new chip he’d had implanted allowed certain Grade 3s to read thoughts. Paranoia, surely?
‘Grace Challenge.’ She offered a hand. ‘But clearly you’ve been well-briefed. Good to meet you Gideon Barnes.’
‘What are my secrets then?’
She took a moment. ‘It’s not yours that I’m interested in.’ She stood to go then added, ‘And no, we can’t.’
‘Read minds. Be seeing you Mr. Engineer.’
The heat inside his lifesuit made underground working hard. Sweat and misting prevention worked only to a degree; occasionally you need a break to let things clear. While he waited, Gideon checked his messages. Grace Challenge. The cutie. He called her back.
‘I’ve been reading about you, Mr Hydrologist. Trying to find water for us?’
Gideon grinned. ‘I may have secrets but I’m no magician.’
‘So why have they called on you? That’s you skill, isn’t it? Hunting out fresh water reserves. A modern day hero, saving our species from death by desalination.’
‘Oh somehow I think, of all people, you know why I’m here.’
Her smile showed on his lens, it failing to do those eyes justice. ‘What do you hope to find?’
‘Ideally? Nothing. Literally. Just another vacuum.’
‘And they need you, do they?’
Gideon looked around even though he knew no one could overhear him. ‘Can we have a drink?’
‘You normally so quick?’
‘If it might be fun…’
She cut him off. ‘Dixy’s. Period two.’
Had she read his thoughts? He could only hope so.
The bar-bot polished a glass in a neat approximation of a real barman. ‘You drill holes?’
Gideon smiled. He was early for Grace and the bot had recognised it and done as programmed, making light conversation. ‘On Earth I try and find water but sometimes that means managing underground lakes that are highly unstable and pressurized. My job is to get the juice without destroying the equipment or the crew. You guys aren’t cheap.’ He checked his watch.
The bot nodded at the door. ‘Period two’s just started and there’s your date.’
Gideon turned, still looking at the watch. He’d never get used to moon-time. Periods, indeed. Like being at school. He glanced up and raised an eyebrow. Dixy’s was one of a few places where the standard one-piece oversuits could be discarded and something more informal worn. Grace Challenge wore a one piece but in a shimmery black. Nice though not what he was expecting.
Grace scanned the room, seemingly ignoring Gideon. She headed to the far side. Gideon didn’t move, confused whether she was seeing someone else first. The bot spoke near his ear. ‘Back room four, next to the gents. Leave your drink.’
As he passed through the arch, his earpiece hissed and then a silent echo filled his head a sure sign the signal had been lost. Funny. That usually happened outside. Beyond the facilities several blank doors stood shut. Number four? He was about to turn back and ask when one eased open. Checking inside, Grace sat at a table, with what looked like two scotches in front of her.
‘Very cloak and dagger. What…’
The door hissed shut behind him. As soon as it closed she stood and took out a small tube running it over him.
‘You think I’m wired. There’s no signal anyway.’
‘Can’t be too careful, Mr. Hydrologist. Drink?’
‘You got my message?’
‘I can’t read your mind, Gideon. But I can tell when someone wants to share and doesn’t know how.’
He sipped his drink.
‘You want to know how you can trust me?’
‘God, you are full of clichés.’
‘You knew who I was on the shuttle, didn’t you? Someone told you to talk to me.’
He just stared.
‘I didn’t know you were coming until the flight. Even then it’s taken me a while to find out why someone with your skills has come here.’
‘It’s not, as you told the bot, just to make sure drilling’s safe, is it?’
She shook her head. ‘Sorry, I don’t have time to play games. Martin called in a favour, said he had a problem with the mine and needed you.’
Gideon narrowed his eyes. ‘Favour?’
‘You’re record’s clean, because of Martin. Cleared by both enquiries. So of course you’d come. Question is what do you now know?’
Gideon rubbed his hands, like they were cold.
She gave him a moment then said, ‘Let me help you. There is liquid, isn’t there?’
‘Yes…’ He sounded cautious.
He looked shocked. ‘I don’t know. That’s my suspicion.’
‘He says it’s inert but the readings…’
‘Yes, exactly. We can’t go releasing something like this. I mean, who knows what the consequences might be?’
It took her time to nod. ‘You are one of the few people who could safely extract some of whatever is there for analysis. That’s what he’s said?’
‘Yes, but even so…’
‘I think you need to see something.’ She stood. ‘Have you eaten?’
‘What, no? I’m not hungry.’
‘Good, because when you’ve seen this I doubt you’ll have an appetite.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean you’re not the first person to try and extract whatever is in there. Come and see.’