The Adventures of Gerry Fynne
This part originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue.
Chapter 1: License to Fly
Gerry looked at the packet in disbelief; he did not think to close the door as he read the hard copy of the X-boat message:
78,329 Hirukar Aser, 2C
Ley / Griik Maeii
I regret to inform you of your father’s death on his claim on Khii 43, Ley / New Konigsberg.
I am enclosing a facsimile of your father’s last will and testament, leaving his entire estate to you. It is necessary that you proceed to the claim, however, to establish and maintain your rights to it. Only then will it be possible for you to make arrangements to sell or work the claim, and effectively take charge of the considerable property located there. I am enclosing appropriate Middle Passage vouchers, along with the appropriate shuttle ticket to the Griik Maeii highport. They may be redeemed at your convenience, but I urge you to make no delay. When arriving in the New Konigsberg system, it will be necessary for you to hire a small craft to transport you to the claim; there is a regular route that visits it monthly, but it is unlikely that your arrival date will make this expedient. The enclosed check should cover the in-system trip, as well as allowing an additional 25% for sundries. You should require no additional funds while embarked on your middle passage, but you may bring whatever additional funds or goods seem appropriate for your trip.
The enclosed vouchers each contain a parental authorization from your father; these are necessary for you to travel. I have taken the liberty of causing your deceased father's signature to be attached; I am unsure of the legal ramifications for myself, but there is no official record of your father's death. The only record of it is this note. All the enclosed documents are self-supporting: they give you the authorization to make the trip as a minor, traveling in obedience to a parental order. Only a conflicting parental order could countermand this parental order. As you are now unfortunately an orphan, this is unlikely. The enclosed plat locates the claim sufficiently for the purposes both of astrogation and legal description, but again your presence is required under the local mining ordinances to secure your claim. I regret that I cannot, in my capacity, do these things for you. Any further questions you have are best answered when you arrive.
Servant to Hugo Fynne, deceased.
The thin sheath of the message and vouchers trembled in his hand. Each voucher had in the Memo section the following, “To my dear natural son Gerald Fynne. I am ordering you to travel without delay to Khii 43, New Konigsberg, where I will take immediate and permanent custody of you. Signed, Hugo Fynne.”
His father was dead.
Well, he had seemed almost so for as long as Gerry could remember. There had been no visits, no correspondence, and certainly no money. His older sister had mentioned speaking with the old man, some eight years ago, but she was now dead, lost to the Scouts as they say.
Gerry was alone on the stoop of his aunt’s comfortable flat. The coolness provided by the vines overhead, still moist from their pre-dawn misting, made the plasticrete landing comfortable even though it was likely 33 degrees down in the street. He was, despite some street noise from some unsilenced construction floaters, quite alone. He got that the claim was some asteroid, or planetoid, some 14 parsecs away. He knew little about the New Konigsberg system, recognizing it only as a name he had had to memorize as part of sector geography; he could not even place the subsector. He knew little about mining in general other than that it was a quick way to die. Quicker than the scouts. He turned to close the door after what must have been several minutes. He went into his room (still his aunt’s sewing room these nine years after momma had passed), hoping to collect his thoughts. He saw the veritable jungle of manicured vines outside the floor-length window continue to sway as he again stood stock still. He darkened the glassteel. For some reason, he took three deep breaths that he was very conscious of, while saying a silent prayer of which he was oblivious.
He had to flee. He knew that one whiff of this would have his aunt on the phone to lawyers, social workers, notaries, and bureaucrats of every stripe. It would be weeks or months before whatever needed to happen would be initiated, likely too late from what Eve said; whatever there was to his father’s likely meager claim would be pecked away by the red-tape vultures. He would have never left the flat, and it would be gone. His father would be even farther gone than he was this minute, when he was both farther gone and in some odd way closer than he had been for as long as Gerry could remember.
He did not know who Eve was, though an enclosed 2D picture showed her as a very attractive young woman. That did not make sense, but she seemed well-spoken—almost as well-spoken as a teacher or a senior bureaucrat. The offer of a remote mining claim so tenuous that a 15-year-old had to rush to save it did make a certain amount of sense, however, at least knowing what little he knew of his father from his mother’s stories. Gerry’s wanting it to make sense made it more so.
He grabbed his backpack and started shoving things in: combo knife, cold light, multi tool, para cord, emergency blanket, Youth Guides book, extra socks, and belter tape. He started to go over in his mind as if this was a Guides trip: environment, activity, outing length, patrol size, patrol resources. He dropped his 2-liter semi-soft canteen and he stopped his frenetic, almost furtive, activity to think.
Environment? Vacuum with likely high radiation and close to absolute zero.
Activity? God only knew, quite literally, at this point. This Eve might be able to guess, but she was not available as a Senior Guide right now was she? The Length of his “outing,” was likewise unknown, but the patrol size was simple: just Gerry. Oh, as Father Kii-O’Mally would say, he was never alone; God would be with him. Gerry did not feel very close to God right then, though, but was sure that his demons would be along for the ride, riding in his pack and weighing him down, whispering doubts in his ear. Thinking of demons, wasn’t this whole thing sinful, running from Auntie, running like a fugitive, before she could tell him to stop? The Fourth Commandment?
“She’s not my damned mother, and my father has called me, called in his final testament!” his voice croaked aloud. Woah, where had that come from? Gerry rarely spoke aloud to himself, and only then not to speak to himself, but to practice speaking, or hear how his voice sounded.
This did not dispel Gerry’s doubts, but it did dispel one: his reason for going. He was going because his father had called him. As Father K.O’M. would say, he had to know the reason leading his action, the primary reason, and if he knew that, then the reasons that followed could be dealt with in turn. Yes, he wanted the money, he wanted an adventure, he wanted to be out from under this old woman’s doting eye, and, well, he wanted to meet this Eve. All of those were not justifications, but reasons; his father’s order, however indirectly transmitted through the wispy synthetic paper of the Xboat envelope ordered by his servant, was a justification. Indeed, this was his way of doing what he had been commanded to by God, but had never been able to, had been ashamed to in front of Aunt and late mother, had felt ashamed for secretly wanting: honoring his father.
That Gerry felt far from God, but very readily grasped the convenient commandment was a distinction lost to him right then. He was a young man on a mission. He did remember that his Guides’ longsuit was a good undergarment for a Vacc Suit, and shoved that into a larger bag. He bitterly thought of his Auntie’s forbidding him from doing Guides Space Camp; he could have used the Vacc Suit orientation, the EVA, and maybe even the “Porthole Astrogation” training. He stuffed in his dress-down clothes, a math book, some packaged shelf-stable food from the pantry. He looked at the knives and other utensils in the kitchen, and settled just on a can opener. A little old-school, but he had no idea what or how he would end up eating. Eve looked well-fed, but Eve could be a dream.
What if his father wasn’t dead? What if this were some trick of his? Well, Gerry didn’t know anything about his father, really, other than he was some kind of bum; he was the kind of bum who leaves his kids without support, without Christmas presents, without a scroll on Ramadan, without a song on Rikikigon…without a fracking word. Well, this was the type of man who did not care for his kids, but not one who hated them or even desired to get them back. Why would he set a trap? Gerry couldn’t conjure a reason, but that didn’t stop the doubting.
He put his hand computer in his backpack, in a zipbag, and wrapped in a towel; he wished it was a Rugid or at least waterproof. It felt vulnerable, and he felt more so. He was done with packing. Packing had been still relatively easy, even under these conditions, for it was a noncommittal act. He could just put it all away. He did not stop to think further, for what he needed now was thankfully in his head.
He knew there was a gap between the security cameras’ coverage just below Auntie’s window. It was a three-to-four meter drop onto the GrassGrid of the alley, but he barely thought about it. Gerry flipped the Guides’ BigSoft so it landed flat and did not roll, then remembered Gunny Wright’s words, “Feet and knees together and hit like a bag of crap anyway” as he jumped. The impact was hard but he had already scrambled over the back fence of the breaker’s yard three meters across the alley before he noticed. He sat there, looking at the rather large pile of battery harnesses in front of him.
Before he really had his wind back, he jogged toward the front office and door to the outside. He pulled out a 2 crud disk, and put it down on the corner of the desk, “ye’din see nuthin’…wanna check my bags?”
“Nah!! Ee know yah yah bastahd. Git …’fore dah cops pay me mah!” the crusty yard owner said, sweeping the disk into the drawer without looking back from his monitors; he had, of course, seen Gerry enter the yard from one of his video feeds, right next to several other camera feeds, two channels of porn, and the system finals in university grav-ball. Gerry was headed toward the door by the third syllable, and then headed down the street, keeping his head down toward the graffiti at the base of the breaker yard’s East wall before the crusty codger was done. He hid his face deep under the desert camo cap he liked to wear for Guides. He knew the police surveillance video cameras would capture him, but without facial biometrics automated searching would be harder. He was wearing no patterns or logos on his clothes, and had no skin ink or jewelry. He would be logged as an “unidentified contact” by the automated systems that processed video feeds for later, human-directed analysis, should the need arise.
As a mental problem, escaping detection had been running through his mind since he decided to run, but only in the background of his thoughts, as it was not a new problem. When he could not do Space Camp during winter break last year, Auntie fronted him the 35 cruds to do his Digital Forensics Achievement Badge, level II, with the Guides. This had been the start of this mental problem; it put him, in some small way, inside the detail and planning of security of Griik Maeii, and the Imperial systems it had adopted. Inside not necessarily to aspire to run, but with a sense of avoidance born of adolescent rebellion and a somewhat technical bent. As his civil engineering teacher, Imperial Marine Gunny Wright, retired, had told the distracted boys in the class, “If you know how to build it, you’re a lot closer to knowing how to blow it down!” The boys had perked up their ears at that, and for the rest of the vertical construction phase they rivaled the “goody girls” in their attention to the material. Well, as Gerry was learning police automation in the Guides, he was thinking along the same lines. That same principle that Gunny applied to defeating physical structures applied as well to defeating security systems, an intriguing interface of planning, hardware, software, data, and analysis, all held together by the flaccid sinews of human nature. Not that he had had any reason to, but it had seemed a fascinating exercise, planning ways of committing and escaping from crimes.
Once Auntie came home, in five hours or so, she would read the somewhat ambiguous note, and it would hopefully take her a couple of hours before annoyance led to panic; the police would not commit resources to a missing persons until 2300 curfew was passed. Then they would ask the standard questions, about clothing, markings, skin ink, and permission to run biometrics. Without some indication of foul play, they would normally not do a port check for 24 hours.
He had easily thirteen and a half hours to cross the ET into the Highport proper; best case, he could comfortably be booked, boarded, and boosting on a liner by then. Eve had known what she was doing: by ordering a middle passage voucher through the Travellers’ Aid Society, in his name, with his 2D emblazoned on the hardcopy, and the parental order in the Memo, she had given his travel the mark of official approval that would keep anyone from thinking he was a runaway. Minors could only travel unaccompanied with parental approval; the parental approval box was clearly checked, with his father’s name and digital signature listed. She had access to the old man’s chop, then, and she was therefore strait that the death was not noted in Imperial, thus TAS, databases.
In forty minutes, his shuttle boosted. He knew that about a dozen cameras that he hadn’t seen or couldn’t avoid had caught his face by the time he had gotten from the transit hub into his shuttle seat; they had not caught him before he got in the tube seat, though, and he kept his cap over his face until getting out in the hub station. He had no way of knowing how quick they would actually check the biometrics on the missing persons overnight or tomorrow, beyond the local precinct. He caught himself clacking his teeth quietly, a “stress reaction,” as the Guides would say. He saw the blue curve of the atmo, and thought of all the people within it who would love to stop him, a runaway. Gerry, Guide Youth Leader Second Class, took inventory of his chances…again.
He knew that law enforcement was like trauma medicine in a mass casualty situation: triage was the order of the day. Resources were put first to where they could do the most good in the most serious cases; a 12-hour-old missing persons report would likely not have the priority to do more than a cursory sweep in the neighborhood, he hoped. If he boarded a starship before the time they marked him for a runaway likely to leave the system, then he had almost made it; he had the advantage of the middle passage and parental order against his Auntie’s word, and she didn’t know, let alone have any proof that his father was dead. She had a document that said she could act as a guardian, not counteract a parental order. He would think it an unlikely event that a liner captain would turn around, or a naval officer divert a patrol craft, to investigate such an ambiguous situation, even if they caught on. They might not put enough resources towards this to even do the analysis necessary before his ship had jumped. When was that? That question vexed him, but he did not dare do an electronic search of scheduled departures; it would redflag his investigatory file, and mark him all the quicker. Before they even did the that, the data entry for logging the complaint would automatically cue a redflag search, looking for other reports, and that would boost the priority of the routine missing persons to a potential “running out-system.”
He did not see the Highport on approach, but it was not of great interest. He had been there on vacation once, and for medical treatment a couple of times. He had certainly seen it hundreds of times in news holos, and locally-made entertainment. He would have liked to take in the view anyway, but he was running it all through his mind, over and over. As the shuttle came in to dock, though, the bulk of the Highport docking arm they were approaching filled the viewport. Gerry quietly started, just a bit. The shuttle’s maneuver had not been noticeable with the internal compensation, so there wasn’t a sense of movement without looking out. His vision seemed to narrow, and it seemed like everything got a little farther away. Somewhere, he registered a baby crying and everyone began to stir in their seats, getting ready to move on. He realized that he was quite afraid. If someone was going to grab him, then the starport is where it would happen. There was no reason it should happen, as Auntie would not even be home for hours yet, as far as he knew. Gerry told himself this again, and it helped just a bit.