Mac Jaclow’s communicator wouldn’t stop ringing, and he seriously considered uninstalling the program from his datapad.
Ever since the Daily Dome ran the story about Queen Skyla and her collapse, he’d had the whole spectrum of calls: “Jaclow, you’ve done it again, you sly bastard, congrats on the big question that caused the break.” And: “I can’t believe you brought up her dead fiancé. A cheap trick for a cheap story.” His favourite? “Mac Jaclow, submit this story for the Charles Lynch Award, and come claim your prize.”
Mac glanced over at his prize wall. Framed certificates and metals were mounted over his single cott in his home-office, where he did most of his writing. Those prizes, that was all he had. Best story covering the drug smuggling ring in Taiwan. His CAJ award: that one was for his story about human trafficking between Canada and Italy.
Those awards were surrounded with the cheaper certificates: Most Likely to turn in Story on Time. Worst Article about Bigfoot Sighting. Best Coverage of Ghosts in Space.
His eyes flickered up to his degree, which was at the centre of his other awards. He’d nailed it to the wall proudly when he’d first arrived at the Dome three years ago. Boy, he’d been a different person then. Present Mac would’ve told Past Mac to stay away if time travel were possible. The Daily Dome was no Earth newspaper, that was for sure. At least some people back home still had standards. Here? These people were happy to read anything to make them forget that they were floating on a useless piece of rock.
The problem with writing a great article? Now the paper wanted more. Normally he’d make something up, but the rumours…they were too juicy to ignore. Lady Harmony had had a seizure. The medical bay was on lockdown. The Moon Flash Virus? Maybe.
Or maybe not.
So Mac decided to dust off the ol’ journalism skills and called up some of the ladies, and began plotting out Lady Harmony’s day the night she’d had her incident. The ladies were more than eager to talk, of course. That’s what they were trained to do.
He used the wall adjacent to his awards to construct the timeline.
Morning: Daily Instruction with Lady Dominique for the Junior Ladies. He’d gotten three Juniors to confirm her being in class with Lady Dominique. She’d been firm in her instruction, as usual, but one of the Juniors noted that she seemed more distracted than usual.
Noon: Lady Harmony was supposed to dine with Lady Dominique at the French café on the promenade, but she had cancelled last minute. Source? The café’s owner was miffed because the two Ladies were big spenders…especially when it came to the finer Earth wines. Even at lunch time? This amused Mac greatly. Where Lady Harmony actually ate lunch, Mac didn’t know.
Early Afternoon, 12:59pm Lunar Standard Time: Lady Harmony’s pass card was swiped at the cargo bay.
1:05pm, LST: Lady Harmony signs in at the front desk.
1:46pm, LST: Lady Harmony signs out.
The rest of the day, Lady Harmony seemed to have spent in her quarters, according to the Juniors who had seen her. The physical evidence seemed to support that as well: she’d swiped her pass-card to get in, and the only time she swiped it again was late at night, before she’d went wandering around the Dome.
The key to the mystery had to be in the cargo bay.
When he called the security department, he’d managed to convince them to release the security tapes for the cargo bays and their adjoining docking bays—but they were on loan, and would be deleted from his datapad within the next hour, regardless of whether he found something useful or not. One hour was barely enough time to comb through the day’s footage. He was pretty sure that if he were anyone else, he would’ve had them for the whole day. The downside to being a journalist with a reputation.
The footage was in black and white with poor sound quality, which was another problem. Most of Earth’s surveillance’s systems had long upgraded to colour, but this was the Lunar Dome. Earth’s old technology dumping ground. There were three cameras: the first one being in the entrance of the cargo bay, above the front desk. Lady Harmony came in, flushed and in a rush, and scrawled her signature on the sign-in sheet.
“The shipment. Has it arrived?” Lady Harmony asked.
“It’s scheduled to dock soon, my lady,” the receptionist replied. “Have a seat in the waiting room.”
Their voices were scratchy and had a robotic undertone from the poor sound quality.
“But I need it tonight!” she insisted. “My current bottle is empty, and my skin…”
“…is just as radiant as ever, as always, my lady. Please, have a seat.”
The receptionist directed Lady Harmony to a waiting area, where there was a second camera. She sat there for more than fifteen minutes. Mac switched to the third camera. The docking bay had one large tightly sealed door, which rose slowly to let in the vaccum of space–and the cargo ship that carried whatever precious product Lady Harmony so desperately needed. Shipments from Earth were an important part of the Lunar economy, and any Lunar citizen could easily order whatever commodity they needed from Earth and have it shipped to the moon–for a price.
Mac fast-forwarded most of the docking procedure. When the ship had safely landed, the docking bay door began its long descent. Workers in space-suits and chords wrapped around their waist to anchor them to the bay floated against the walls until the room pressurized and gravity was restored. The gentle release of steam from the rear cargo ship door rose into the air.
No, that couldn’t be right. Rewind.
He watched the cargo bay door close again. The steam began to rise before the space door was shut–just as the ship was landing. Fuel from the aft? No, that wasn’t right. It would have been sucked into space.
There it was again.
A hazy black mist slipped through the crack in the bay door just as it shut, and jumped into a nearby air vent as the room pressurized.
The workers were all wearing suits, but the eager customers who entered the bay after the ship landed were not. A tendril of black smoke hung in the air, as if waiting for a vulnerable person to walk by…
And who was the first civilian back in the bay, but Lady Harmony.