Welcome to my new serial! As with the previous two (The Cold Man and Miss Salter) maximum word count of each part will be around 700 so you can read each section in under five minutes. I started piecing this one together just as I was finishing Miss Salter and have an idea of where it is going. Otherwise, I am improvising on a week by week basis. Enjoy!
‘You know,’ Jase said to the woman on the other side of the table, ‘I really don’t understand. If the governments of Earth want you dead so badly, why are you hiding here on their doorstep, in a bar at the most popular hotel on Mars?’
She peered at him with a neutral expression and sucked slowly on her cigarette, taking time to draw the chemicals deep into her body, savouring every second of the poison. She pulled it out of her mouth and examined the stick from the waste that was the burning end, to the cotton nib through which she drew her breath.
‘Do you want me to repeat the q-,’ he asked after a few minutes in which she’d failed to answer.
‘No,’ she cut him off and exhaled a lungful of smoke, ‘I heard what you said. I’m just surprised that the answer isn’t obvious.’
He frowned, shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of his martini. ‘I could be blunt?’
‘I could suggest it might have something to do with that, whatever happens on Earth, Mars will do the opposite. That’s why you can smoke your cigarette here without getting a 100 Credit fine.’
He’d been sat with her for ten minutes and at no point had her expression been anything but stony, calculating, mistrustful even, but at that comment, he caught just the merest hint of a smile.
‘We don’t do political correctness here, which is why anybody who overheard you then won’t be offended.’
He took another chance to admire the surroundings. It almost seemed cliché that Mars had adopted neo-gothic architecture with hints of H.R. Giger. The chief architect in charge who took over once the joint NASA, ESA, JAE and CNSA mission withdrew, must have been a fan of the 20th century artist. Whatever competing design standards had existed back then but have given way quickly to this alien semi-organic aesthetic.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ she asked. ‘There’s something raw and visceral about the cities and the buildings here, and of course the natural landscape.’
His gaze drifted from the ornate ceiling to the large reinforced windows to his left. Beyond was the familiar angry-red Martian landscape, a steep cliff rising in the distance less than a mile away, another cliff falling away just outside of the window leading to a plain on which small dust devils danced around and through each other.
‘Undoubtedly,’ he replied, ‘I can see the appeal – sort of – it has a charm and a beauty that you don’t really see on Earth. I guess once terraforming is complete, people will miss the primordial nature of it all.’
She laughed and stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray. ‘You reporters are so full of shit.’
He flushed. ‘Well thanks, but I meant what I said.’
‘I’m sure you did. Sorry, I’m used to reporters wanting my story and naturally mistrusting all of them so I have an,’ she raised her hands in a protective motion, ‘over-zealous defence mechanism.’
‘That’s fine, I understand. I’m a reporter and I don’t trust any of them either,’ he gave her a friendly wink. ‘But if you don’t trust reporters, I don’t understand why you went to such efforts to get me out here to talk to you in the first place. Why me, anyway?’
She shrugged, ‘I’ve heard your name in certain circles. You’ve won awards and from what I can tell, you have no skeletons in your closet. I’ve no reason not to trust you and at present, that’s good enough for me. Another drink?’ She asked, noticing he’d finished his martini.
‘I shouldn’t really have had the first one as I’m working, so just a lemonade this time.’
She shook her head vigorously, ‘No, have an Augusta Fruit Cocktail. There’s no alcohol in it but it tastes so good you won’t care,’ she snapped her fingers at the barman and asked for two.
‘Twenty-five credits and no alcohol? I hope it’s worth it at that price!’
‘It is. To answer your earlier question,’ she replied. ‘They want me dead because they can’t understand how I survived.’