Part 4: Shiva - Chapter 8

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There was something odd about Buzz Aldrin's left foot.

From where she sat, Agnes couldn't quite make out what it was. Either it was not the same length as his right one, or it was too narrow. Of course, it could just be a trick of the light.

In fact not all of the display was genuine. The Lunar Module base was authentic, of course, and most of the experiments that had been set up by Aldrin and Armstrong in their few short hours at Tranquillity Base were the real thing. But the United States flag had long ago been souvenired and replaced, and of course the upper section of the Lunar Module was fake too, since they'd used that part of the ship to return to lunar orbit. The footprints were real, too. Admittedly they'd been set in ultra-hard plastic to preserve them, but every ridge on the base of the shoes was visible.

The two statues of the astronauts, however, left a lot to be desired. There had been no need to make the facial features life-like, of course, since they wore space helmets with the sun visors down. But their poses looked too, well, posed, and she speculated if the space suits were accurately reproduced: how anyone could have survived a walk on the Moon in suits that bulky and simplistic was a wonder. Artistic licence, maybe.

The whole display was now encased behind plastic and set in a memorial park across the street from where Agnes sat in a bar, pretending to drink her sixth cocktail while waiting for Nancy Jong to kill her.

She'd been waiting for a while now, and was wondering if anything was going to happen. The bar wasn't a popular one, despite being located across the road from the Apollo 11 site. Ancient history didn't pull the lunar tourist crowds like the low gravity volleyball courts did, or the tours of the underground ice caverns at the South Pole. There were only two other people at the place at this raw hour of the morning, and both of them were almost passed out drunk.

She should be, too, if her cocktails had been real. She'd decided early on not to bother pretending to be drunk: she was a lousy actor and didn't want to keep up the pretence for what might be hours. Besides, it was being drunk in the first place that had landed her in this situation. Challenging Dorac to an arm wrestle wasn't something she would have done sober.

If she'd pulled rank, he might have given in. There was enough military discipline left in the man to cave, perhaps, to a direct command. But her drunkenness at the time had meant that idea hadn't occurred to her. So they'd arm wrestled instead.

So here she was now, humiliated in defeat after a contest that lasted all of three seconds, being the bait for something that wasn't going to happen.

Bait. That's why it had taken the arm wrestle challenge to settle the contest. It wasn't that she minded the danger, it just irked her to have to be the one to be shot at. Of course, Nancy might simply blow the whole place up. Agnes might end up splattered all over Aldrin and Armstrong.

'There's no danger,' Dorac had said as he adjusted the straps on her bullet-proof cuirass. 'Well, not much.'

'Wipe that smile off your face.'

He did, and appeared to mean it. 'Personally, I think nothing will happen.'

Personally, neither did she. Which made the whole arm wrestle thing even more ludicrous.

The longer she sat there the more she looked like bait. They'd already been on the Moon three days and there had been no more attempts on her life, or Dorac's. It was unlikely that anything would happen here and now in her opinion. But her opinion didn't matter anymore.

Next to the Apollo 11 display they were digging the road up. The workers had been at it all evening, performing the necessary work in the quiet hours when traffic was at a minimum. There was a big vehicle and six workers supervising the machines that performed the task of taking up the road and replacing some pipes and cables. No Helots. That might have raised a few eyebrows except that the city council had a policy of using machines more than people as labour. The six men didn't do much work, just spent most of the time chatting and using their fones. But then, they weren't real workers.

Who else but a habitual drunk would be hanging out at such a place and time? Peter would laugh if he knew about it, and then feel deep disapproval which he would have hidden for the sake of keeping the peace. He would have objected to her being there at all, doing what she was doing. He wouldn't have arm wrestled a huge Sirian warrior.

Her fone beeped. It was Dorac, checking in for the twentieth time. She sent a message back telling him nothing was happening, and nothing would happen, and she wanted to go to bed. There was no reply.

She drained her glass and debated the wisdom of just walking out. Glancing again at the workers in the street, they looked even idler than before. Even the machines had stopped working. Everything outside was as still as the Apollo 11 display, and just about as exciting.

STUFF THIS. I'M GOING HOME, she messaged Dorac.

As she emerged from the bar the road workers looked at her. They were probably the reason nothing was happening: no terrorist was going to attempt to kill her or attack her here, with a whole load of witnesses.

Agnes stepped across the road as Dorac and one of the workers, a tall Lunar in yellow overalls, emerged from behind the machine.

'You're breaking cover,' he said. 'Go back.'

Colonel Stephen deSalva of Syndicate Combined Intelligence (Moon) was almost as tall as Dorac, but of a much lighter build. In the few days Agnes had known him, he had not smiled once. Nor had he once acknowledged her old rank. The mutual animosity was like two pole-to-pole magnets repelling each other. Dorac had the good sense to stand between them.

'Too late now.' Dorac reached automatically for a cigarette now the alert was down.

DeSalva sighed and looked at his men who were waiting for orders. One of them stopped the only machine still operating. The silence was thick: almost as thick, Agnes decided, as deSalva.

'Are you sure your intelligence is accurate?' the Colonel asked. 'It really was Nancy Jong?'

'I never forget a face,' said Dorac. He blew smoke out. It curled oddly in the low lunar gravity.

'If it is her, then we're really looking for two people. You want her boyfriend too. If she killed the Nuncio, he had something to do with it.'

Agnes had read deSalva's brief about Nancy Jong. Stefan Rix appeared on almost every page. Raised by Helots, he'd been making a nuisance of himself for years. Nothing too big, but capable of more. He'd been given psychiatric treatment a few times in his teens but hadn't responded. Combined hadn't heard from him for a while. It was all very well mentioning him as a lead, but since no one knew where he was it wasn't helpful.

'What's that?'

'What?' Agnes glanced at Dorac and almost laughed. His large ears had twisted around like a dog listening to an unidentified noise. Sirians had exceptional hearing, a feature which fuelled a lot of Dog Star jokes, although Agnes knew better than to tell any in Dorac's presence.

'That.'

Agnes could hear nothing. No, wait...a vehicle approaching. At this raw hour it wasn't odd, but it was unusual.

'Colonel,' said Dorac, 'it might be...'

A car turned the corner and slowed as it travelled along the street. Agnes had no idea why she had a sudden urge to take cover behind one of the digging machines, but she gave in to it. Three long strides and she was there, pulling out a pistol from inside her cuirass at the same time.

At least, that's what she meant to do. But the gun butt caught on a fold of her tunic under the cuirass and she fell down behind the machine before she managed to wrench the weapon free.

By that time the air was full of bullets.


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