Black Night

28th January 2158
Viva Elvis!

The big day of the Elvis concert. Most of Founder’s Square was shut off early in the morning, and the audience had already started to arrive. We were luckier: we got a private invite and escort backstage late afternoon, and then good seats in the first couple of rows. The atmosphere was electric and I have to admit Elvis is a darned good performer.

The concert was just that: a concert. I don’t think The Living Elvis claims to be anything other than Elvis. We stayed late backstage and much food and drink was had by all. Elvis was particularly good to the kids, and he must have tipped his staff off as to the awkwardness with Anna and it was all handled pretty well.

Elvis also mentioned that a couple of Cliff lookalikes (“Angel’s of Cliff, they call them”) had been arrested with concealed firearms.

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26th January 2158
Appropriate Childminding

This afternoon we collected Anna, Mike and Louise from the Magrail Station. Maria and Sylvie took them shopping back in the Big City, and then to our Hotel Suite. Vincent was playing computer games in the central suite wearing only a pair of socks and lime green Hawaiian shorts.

Sylvie moved into one of the rooms this evening to help with the kids. It was arranged that they would stay here till the return Black Rock train in six days time. Sylvie’s family have agreed to look after them the night we leave, and put them on the train the next day.

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21st January 2158
Enter the Louis Bleriot

It was a six hour ride on the Space elevator to the Highport. We sat down and played a game of cribbage between the four of us. Most of us had brought some belongings and purchases to kit out our rooms.

Sylvie seemed to know a few of the station staff; she was stationed here for four years with MMC staffing the shuttle ambulance for arriving ships with passenger problems. She bagged stateroom 4 and started hanging rattan screens and prints.

Then to business. I checked the drives and Maria and Vincent the Electronics and Power systems. Sylvie went round doing an inventory of medical supplies. The conclusions were that the ship was in pretty good condition, though the sensors really do need replacing- a matter of CR 50,000 for replacements or Cr 1,000,000 (!) for an upgrade. In the interim Maria suggested I buy some spares and she would jury-rig it as we went along. Sylvie whacked me with a minimum medical supplies purchase bill for Cr 16,000. Great. It could have been worse I suppose.

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20th January 2158
The Magnificent 5 and a Half

The exchange (finally) went without a hitch. Hiro and I signed up the paperwork and he handed over the access codes: I am now the owner of the Louis Bleriot. Hiro volunteered that the ship was one of six built for the Russian Mafia in 2138…..

I had promised to sort Maria out with better digs than her mini Hab Pod, and as we collected her stuff I got a call on the Elvis phone.

“Hi man, got a minute? I booked a couple of hotel suites for Tom and Mary’s kids at the Bradbury: two adjoining suites each with four bedrooms. Full room service-my account and expenses-that ok? Tell Vincent and Sylvie and I’ll meet you there at four-gotta fly.”

Well that solved that problem: I might as well move in there myself for the duration. I went to my room to arrange the transport of my stuff –and found some replies to an advert I had optimistically placed for prospective crew about four weeks previously. There were three CV’s, but we sorted through them rationally and fairly.

“The Russian guy looks Hot” said Maria, “Let’s interview him.” Fine.

Sylvie also rang back, and we arranged to meet her in the commercial district for lunch, where both she and Vincent were shopping.I offered her the medic Post. She accepted.

We went over to the Bradbury at four and were directed up to the sixth floor. We were stopped, searched and scanned by four MIB’s, until Elvis popped his head out the door.

“Leave them guys. Come in Lars”

Brushing past the heavies we moved into the room; Elvis locked the door behind him.

“You didn’t look very happy at the train station” offered Maria.

“Yeah well. Welcome to my Life.” replied Elvis. “Coffee?”

“Well these are the rooms” said Elvis. Vincent looked impressed-a step up from his mini hab pod. “Move in when you like-they’re booked for two weeks. Everything on me, don’t worry about it. I also wanted to give you guys these as a thanks. Tickets for the big concert too.”

What he handed us were some fancy toys. Expensively made for Elvis by who knows? Everyone looked pleased with their gifts, and there were amused remarks as to why it was to me that Elvis had given a fancy set of Weapon Aiming HUD Goggles: I thought the things were experimental science only- you certainly can’t get them commercially.

Vincent, Maria and myself decided to move in straight away. Sylvie was spending a bit of time with her parents after several years on orbital stations or in the Martian outback, and said she needed to break things gently.

Later that evening we met the so-called Hot Russian at my favourite Japanese restaurant. His name was Dmitri Strakov, and he has been with the Russian Navy for ten years. He has good general crew skills, and has been marooned on a Kuiper Belt station for the last six years.

“My own fault” he said, “I appeared in some promotional films and couldn’t stand the attention, so I asked for an out-of-the-way posting. I certainly got that.”

Dmitri drank like a fish and ate indiscriminately-he ate things like he couldn’t taste them. Maybe he can’t. Maria certainly approved: he was hired.

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19th January 2158
Mariner Again.

It was after lunch before we started the drive back to Black Rock. Before we left we thanked Tom and Mary; Elvis invited them all to his gig the following week, plus free Hotels etc. etc. Obviously Anna really wanted to go but Tom was reluctant to abandon his farm. After much pestering from his kids he agreed to put them on next week’s train to Mariner City, on condition they were under the supervision of an adult-Me basically: this was ok as it would dovetail with our last few days on Mars-Elvis said his people could provide additional cover if necessary. And so we left.

It took a couple of hours to get to Black Rock and as we approached (across a stretch of outback, rather than from the Road-as advised by Elvis) we saw a couple of big Rovers with hab units.

“That’ll be my people”, said Elvis. “I guess some of them got off at one of the other Valley Stops and hired these units and drove here-from Mandytown maybe. Either way they’ll be plumb full of questions. My advice is drop me off over there and I’ll walk into town from the direction of the Golden Road. You wait a bit and when they all swamp me, park up and hole up in your hotel rooms. If you want to avoid a lot of hassle just lay low till the train tomorrow. I’ll contact you back in Mariner, before the concert, ok?”

And so we did. The Hotel Owner Woody raised an eyebrow when we came in the back door.

“This place is swarming with Elvis folks, and Boy are they interested in you.”

“We’re not here” I replied, “We’ll lie low till the train tomorrow. Good business?”

“Sure thing”, he replied, “But someone in the town must have told them he’d drove off with you. But they never found you at least.”

I snuck in and used the room terminals to speak to the others. We just kept quiet, and Woody sent up some food and drink on the quiet.

The next morning it had all settled down- the Elvis circus had moved on. Elvis was leaving by the train with his Minders, but the two Rovers and most of the people had driven off early in the morning. Black Rock was returning to normal.

Mid morning we drove our stuff up to the station and parked up. At the far end of the platform we could see Elvis staring straight ahead. A small man in a suit was talking incessantly and gesticulating, and four monolithic bodyguard-types stood around nearby. They climbed into a reserved carriage. We entered further along the train, and slumped back in our seats. I was running events through my mind, and then fell asleep.

After lunch we arrived in Mariner. A few good time girls and joint touts were haranguing the Miners who got off their train, hoping to help them blow their pay. Maria shot one of the Hookers a glance and she backed off.

First order of business was stashing the statue. It had dismantled into three parts distributed about our luggage, and this we now moved to a station locker. There was then just time to drop off our stuff before we went off to our appointments with the Wardens. I gave Hiro a quick call and arranged to sign the ship contract the next day.

The address for their offices was in the Civic District-a cliff habitat I am not that familiar with. A modestly signed office lay down a corridor near the more impressive UWC Colonial office. Inside was a smart looking receptionist and a fairly ordinary visitor area. Shortly thereafter a rather attractive but severe blonde haired woman entered and introduced herself as Sgt. Udet; we followed her.

Once through the reception area we could see that the office was much more extensive than it had appeared. We walked along a covered corridor which overlooked a landing pad area situated in a bay on the cliffs-not visible at all from ground level. Below were two black liveried VTOLs, and there was space for a shuttle or so easily. Technicians bustled about below, and as we walked around the semi circular corridor other doors led off to our right.

We entered another smaller office and then one at a time were called in to an office which overlooked the landing area and had a good view of the valley below. A middle aged man in the severe grey/ black uniform of the Wardens introduced himself as Lieutenant Albermarle. His questioning was pretty thorough and seemingly factual and innocuous. I didn’t like the man: he implied that he knew almost everything he needed to about me, and I continually got the impression he was trying to trap me. I just stuck to the basic facts and omitted any speculation about weird religions or altars. He concluded with some observations on my current business of acquiring a ship, and expressed his view that if I put this matter completely behind me and made a go in the trading business, there shouldn’t be any reason for us to speak again.

I waited in a nearby bar we had arranged to meet in, and the others drifted in one-by-one. Maria was particularly annoyed as she thought The Lft. had tried to trap her- he had used the word ‘cult’ to describe the Raiders and when she feigned innocence as though the idea had never occurred to her, he had said ‘Oh, perhaps I misunderstood your friend. Still, there are lots of odd groups of people about in these difficult times – fundamentalists, oddball cults-even the followers of your friend Elvis for example.”

The sooner we get rid of this statue and get off the better.

Maria, Vincent and myself were last left at the bar-from my point of view I was avoiding going to sleep: It’s getting worse. We discussed options: I still needed a crew.

“Me and you can cover Pilot and Engineer between us. Laura as Astrogator, and for now Vincent will be taking up another stateroom. We still need a medic and A. N. Other- hopefully someone who can cover a couple of crew roles”

“What about Sylvie?” suggested Maria. “She seems quite resourceful, and was perfectly at home in the Martian Outback. I know she does martial arts too, as she and Elvis were talking about them all the time.”

“Yes ok, I’ll call her and leave a message” I replied. “I think she can look after herself because she came through that fire fight round the rover when Denise was wounded-she must have shot one or both of the Guards. I know she served on the Mars Orbital Station with the MMC too, so she has some familiarity in space.” She must have been asleep so I left a message.

Eventually we staggered off to our digs, with a vague plan to meet tomorrow for lunch. For once I slept like a log.

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18th January 2158
The Last Temptation of Elvis.

This morning two trucks from the Ryan Mine arrived –two large rovers with rear containment areas-to collect their monthly produce order from Tom and Mary. It seemed something of a social occasion for them-I guess they don’t get that many visitors, and the four crew joined us for lunch.

One of the drivers said that a VTOL had landed at Black Rock a couple of days ago, which certainly got me thinking.

After lunch the trucks drove off, and we started thinking about our return journey on the morrow. At the evening meal I noticed that Maria was casting odd glances at Anna, but I didn’t twig why- she looked rather pretty in fact. I decided to head to bed early with a journey the next day.

I was awoken by Vincent close to ten o’clock. “Get up, get your Mars Suit-Maria is in trouble.” I noticed he had his pistol. As I got dressed he explained.

“Maria was checking the Rover over in the Hanger when she saw someone slip out of the greenhouse, and down into the Flows. She followed and started tracking them. Thing is she sounds scared-she says she didn’t take a gun, and she thinks she’s being stalked by someone-or something.”

Without disturbing anyone else we went into the Greenhouse, and left by the end door. It was pitch black outside, though we could see lights on the Weather Station and antenna mounted atop the large rocky spur a couple of km or so ahead. We cast around for a couple of sets of footprints which led down into the sand filled crevices, and followed as best we could.

The walls of the crevices varied only between about one and two metres, but after going for a few minutes we could no longer see the Greenhouses. Vincent had Maria’s suit transponder on his wrist comp, and she was maybe a km or so ahead, somewhere in the tangle of the Flows. She appeared to be stationary.

The wind was making eerie noises as it pushed through the ravines and mini-canyons-but this is the sort of noise I’ve heard before. What wasn’t expected was a strange whistling noise-high then low-coming from somewhere ahead of us. This was answered somewhere off to our left by another whistling noise, this time pitched differently, piercing the thin Martian air. We looked at one another.

We were maybe only a couple of hundred metres from Maria at this point, and I crept up onto a rock, and scanned over the head of the boulders using my electronic sight-and caught a glimpse of movement. What I thought I saw was a rear shot of a head and shoulder-tall enough to still be visible while I scanned over the topmost level of the flows. There was something odd about the head, but the IR painter only shows a black/ greenish grey image, and I couldn’t really make out any detail. We crept closer, but the head, or whatever it was, disappeared out of sight.At this point we were quite close to Maria, and she hissed to us from a small cul-de-sac in which she had been hiding.

At this point we heard another noise-which I can only describe as chittering or tittering-this time from behind us, back towards the greenhouse. None of us were in the mood for further night-time adventures, but Maria was tracking who she thought might be Anna. She had noticed at dinner that she had made herself up slightly (neither Vincent nor myself had noticed), and it was her guess that she was sneaking out to see Elvis; Maria thought she might have a crush on him.

That settled it- with whatever it was out there, we couldn’t leave Anna wandering about alone. I handed Maria her rifle and she and Vincent walked ahead; we were all pretty jittery at this point and I backed up behind them, covering our rear as we negotiated the narrow passages. Ahead the rocky spur loomed.

Fortunately we reached it without further incident, and as we scrambled up onto the rover track I looked back across the Flows. Just for a microsecond I thought I spotted two greenish pin-pricks of light, and then it was pitch dark again. There is definitely something down there.

The spine of the spur was a hard walk, but there was little chance of ambush here. Eventually we walked underneath the bridge between the instrumentation block and the hab block, and emerged into the small vehicle park, with one of Tom’s Rovers parked outside. We walked up the steps to the Hab Unit, and keyed the access codes.

Inside we could hear Elvis playing his guitar and singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. I knocked, diplomatically paused and then entered. Inside Elvis was sat on a hard chair with his guitar; across from him was a slightly bewildered looking Anna; the top half of her Mars Suit, was rolled down, but beneath she was fully clothed. “Hi man I was just playing Anna some tunes. I’ll make you some coffee and then you can join in too.” As he walked behind Anna he motioned me to follow him into the canteen area.

“You got to get her back to her Daddy. Take the Rover. This happens to me all the time.”

We stayed and listened for an hour or so, and then started to make leaving noises. Anna had no excuse not to come with us. Before we left I warned Elvis to lock the doors and told him what had happened. He looked puzzled, but said he’d be ok as he had his rifle with him. He’s been in the army apparently.

We drove back down in silence, and headed back in without disturbing anyone. No point in embarrassing Anna with her parents.

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17th January 2158
An Unknown Visitor.

Next morning we went up to the weather station in two vehicles; we took two rovers, so we could leave one with Elvis. He assisted Vincent and Maria in replacing the circuit boards, and after a couple of hours we left him to it.

After lunch Maria went out to assist Tom with some damage to one of the Greenhouse Panels, when in the early afternoon I got a quiet call from Vincent to come urgently. I arrived to find Sylvie and Maria had already arrived. Young Mike was standing around, on one leg as it happens.

“Young Mike was messing around in the shallow flows out back there. Look what he found.”

What he had found was the skeleton of a human arm, to a point snapped just above the elbow. There were still bits of sinew on it. Sylvie picked it up.

“The finger ends they have been split-and this looks like gnawing. Wait-there are gnawing marks all along it.”

“I went and had a look where he found it”, said Vincent. "The flows are like a labyrinth of shallow canyons only 1-2 m deep, with sand blown in the bottoms. I photographed this.”

It certainly looked like a footprint of some sort-three toes and a rear toe, like a reptile or bird. Or maybe it was just one of those odd marks you get sometimes.

We went through the usual catalogue of conspiracy theories and myths: secret geneered corporate experiments gone wrong, Beast of Black Rock, alien life etc etc but with nothing else to go on it was a bit pointless. The most disturbing possibility was that it was someone human-and nearby; if someone had simply ‘lost’ an arm via an accident it would have frozen solid like a block of ice. We showed the arm to Tom and he was a little confused by it. No-one has gone missing it would appear-the nearest settlement is another Mine some 20km distant. He wrapped the arm in a cloth and locked it in a container- we will take it in to the Sherriff at Black Rock when we return

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16th January 2158
An Impressive View.

Today we had agreed to accompany Tom up to the weather station-he held a caretaker/ maintenance contract for the MWA, and it was time for his monthly inspection. He explained he had noted there were some power fluctuations and so he would need to run a diagnostic on the system. There were also some issues he’d noted last month, including the replacement of solar panels on the main mast. Elvis came with us-he is a bit of an electrician and had helped with some wiring of the Greenhouse on the previous day-assisted doggedly by Anna.

Maria was familiar with the operating system, and with Vincent went through the laborious process of tracking down the fault. Meanwhile I climbed 100 m up the instrument mast, and the wind howled as I climbed up the metal ladder, protected only by the loose tubular cage which surrounded it. At the designated place I stopped and looked down-the bluff with the weather station 200m above the valley floor-and me another 100m above that. Wonderful. The spare panels were sent up in the mini elevator, and I keyed the controls to swing the panels in. I spent the next four hours in the freezing wind replacing them-I was glad to get down.

As we ate our sandwiches Elvis looked round at the bunkroom which constituted one half of this mini-complex and asked if he could move in here for the duration of his stay. There were cooking facilities and so on,and he could look after himself for a few days. Tom readily agreed-we would need to return the next day to replace the circuits Maria had isolated as the cause of the power fluctuations, and he could move in then.

As we drove back we heard the unusual noise of a VTOL off toward the direction of the Magrail; a pretty rare and unusual sound on Mars-the quantities of fuel burned are astronomical: a very expensive business.

That evening I called Maria, Vincent and Sylvie together and explained the D Notice and the conditions imposed on us by the wardens. We all agreed to gloss over any mention of the valuable statue. I didn’t want any entanglements with the system’s most secretive Legal Enforcement Agency-I just wanted to collect my new ship and be gone. I gather Vincent has had some dealings with the Wardens in the past: his verdict was that they were pretty ruthless in achieving what they wanted, but overall he probably thought they were on the side of the Angels: if that was meant to reassure me it didn’t succeed. We all agreed that there was something very odd going on-why their interest in this-a few Raiders on the rampage? As for once I slept soundly I turned it all over in my head.

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15th January 2158
Out On The Road Again

I woke early after another restless night. On my way to the shower I bumped into Vincent and told him about Hiro’s comment regarding an Elvis concert. He looked intrigued and when we all met at the breakfast table he indicated that he’d done some quick net research.

“Elvis Presley was a big music entertainer in the 20th Century-he died in the 1970’s sometime. Look here– I printed this off from a wiki entry: “The Church of the Living Elvis is a successor Cult to The Church of Elvis the King and the Second Sway. The second coming of Elvis was officially deemed to have occurred on January 8th 2085, and during his Reign the King, amongst other pronouncements indicated that he would never again leave the Faithful. The Church was re-organised as The Church of the Living Elvis in 2114, and since that time there has always been a Living Elvis. The current Elvis has apparently reigned since 2155. It is speculated that The Living Elvis may be a surgically altered impersonator, or more esoterically a clone, or even a clone with memory transfer of one or all of the original Elvis’s. The Church isn’t saying, and the speculation helps to maintain interest in The Living Elvis.” ”

“But get this”, said Vincent “The original guy was prolific. You’ve heard of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’?”

“A classic” piped up Sylvie, “ It was the system-wide hit by Vanilla Bob and the Blue Nymphettes in Christmas 2148: we all had posters up of Bob in our school-that hair…” She looked at Maria who in turn looked completely blank.

“Yeah”, said Vincent, “But that was a COVER- apparently this Elvis did the original back in the 1950’s.

“In fact loads of the stuff we know is covers of Elvis material. Naughty Ninja Nuns doing ‘It’s Now or Never”-that’s an old Elvis number too.”

I found this hard to believe and I’d been a fan of the NNN’s in my teens-I still have the Holo Vid of Sister Cerise dancing in her Wimple and bondage gear in my Travelling Chest, but I didn’t want to own up to it.

“He can’t be a clone” suggested Sylvie ”While we can re-grow body parts-the full body growth and memory transfer stuff-it is science- fiction.”

“Maybe- unless you’re vastly wealthy of course. Who knows? My bet is on some sort of coaching and surgical alteration, but either way the Church is a very rich organisation-it’s acquired most of the licensing rights of the originals over the years- so it must earn a packet. The Living Elvis tours as well-apparently he is in the middle of one now, and is on his way to the inner worlds. Hence the Mariner concert next week. The upside is they appear fairly harmless- this Elvis guy doesn’t claim divine provenance or to be the holder of universal truths or anything- he just claims to be The Living Elvis .”

At that moment Elvis appeared at the breakfast table and bid us good morning. We ate and chatted generally, but he seemed to be holding back on something. Eventually he spat it out.

“Look man I got a problem-you have a Rover don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and he explained his position. Essentially he was on the run from his management, his army of hangers-on and the Church People: not permanently, but he wanted a few days to himself to get his head together before the big Mariner Concert next week. His officials had provided an endless list of excuses and appointments as to why he couldn’t do this, so he had slipped off, boarded a train, arranged with the magrail company to drop him off at Black Rock (1 million credits apparently to stop the train-because he’d read about the Black Rock once in a Mars guide…) and come to the hotel. Unfortunately he’d had a run-in with one of the mining boys yesterday, and had basically “kicked his butt out the door”, and he now realised that there was intense interest in him. It was only a matter of time before the Church people appeared in Black Rock and so he needed to disappear-he wanted us to help with our Rover. I looked at Sylvie.

“There are some farms and homesteads dotted around the Outback-I could ask one of them to put us up a few days-especially if Elvis could make it worth their while- it is the tough life for these small farms and homesteads.”

To this Elvis readily agreed, and Sylvie was able to contact a family called the Godalmings, who ran some sort of vegetable growing business in the Outback-about 50 km from Black Rock-far enough out to be isolated and difficult to find, but not too far. Elvis primed the Hotel Owner to bamboozle and mislead the Church Searchers when they turned up, and we got our stuff and loaded up the Rover-Maria, Vincent, Sylvie, Elvis and myself. Laura wasn’t feeling too well, and Derik and Denise were recovering at the hotel.

The drive wasn’t very long; we headed the mile or so out of town towards the Golden Road, and then headed west for about an hour. Sylvie then headed off to the north west following a transponder beacon, and in less than two hours we approached the homestead- consisting of a couple of dome units and some outbuildings, and two very large greenhouses. Beyond one of the greenhouses was a jumble of chaotic terrain leading towards a large spine of rock, on which we could see mounted yet again one of the ubiquitous Outback Weather stations.

As we entered the module we were greeted by a middle aged man and woman who introduced themselves as Tom and Mary. They lived here with their daughters Anna (19) and Louise (10), and their son Mike (14); there were also two hired hands-Manuel and Achmed . They made their living growing vegetables which were supplied on a regular basis to the three or four mines which operated within a 100km vicinity-in fact they were busy preparing for a collection which was to take place in a couple of days time. They let us get settled in before lunch in an hour; I shared a bunkroom with Vincent, Sylvie with Maria and Elvis got a room to himself.

Elvis was all charm over lunch, and held the Godalmings in the palm of his hand I think-his simple manners struck a chord with them. I noticed Anna cast more than a single look in his direction. Tom explained that he was sorry he couldn’t offer us much to do in the way of entertainment-but if we wanted to help with the packing and general jobs about the place we were more than welcome. I for one was more than glad to do some manual work for a change- I was paired with Achmed- a quiet young man with a scar on his face, of Arab origin I think.

The food at least was fresh and very good, and after an afternoon’s labour and a session in the gym, I was ready for a shower and bed. In the main room I could hear Elvis gently strumming his guitar and singing what sounded like old folk and religious tunes, for the entertainment of the household

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14th January 2158
A King Walks Among Us

I stayed awake as long as I could, reading while the others dozed off-I am getting to the stage where I don’t want to sleep sometimes. I finally dropped off again after midnight, but once again it was a restless slumber, and when I woke it was like I hardly slept at all. As usual the dreams were vague but disconcerting-all I can remember was walking through something very big. Maybe some sedatives would help.

The storm had blown over during the night without incident, and fortunately the twisters seemed to have passed us by. The storm had slowed down our journey home, but it had also erased our tracks and immobilised the Raiders had they chosen to follow us, so that was a good thing.

We shared the driving and this time I didn’t cause any accidents, but it was early evening as we drove into Black Rock, Vincent having announced an hour to two before that the web was back up, probably due to our proximity to the land link running from Black Rock to the magrail.

As I wasn’t driving at the time I reported in to Hiro. “Ah Good Evening-everything settled then?” I briefly explained what had happened- he looked horrified when I told him what had happened to Dr. Anderson. “I see. Well spare no expense with the local Doctor. Get an assessment and if there is a real emergency I’ll charter an MMC collection. There’s a lot to think about here and I need to consider what to do. You missed the return train earlier today, so I’m afraid you’re marooned in Black Rock for six days yet. Check in and get settled at the Hotel, and then contact me again with your report and we’ll chat in more detail.”

The first thing we did in Black Rock was drop Dr. Anderson at the local quack. He had a small dispensary out back with a couple of beds, and after checking her over came to have a word. “She’s been badly beaten, and there’s a lot of bruising and a couple of cracked ribs. I’ll also be running some blood tests to see if there are any long term issues. It’s not the physical damage I’m so worried about though, it’s the long term effects of her experience. She’s been badly treated and, I’d say, frequently sexually abused. Almost certainly she’s going to need psychiatric counselling, and even then it will scar her for the rest of her life I’d say. I’ll post my report through to the company Doc at LFC when I’m done-in the meanwhile I’m going to try heal her physically and keep her under sedation. I have a couple of local women who do nursing duties for me sometimes; I’m assuming LFC will pick up the tab, and they’ll be glad of a little extra income.” Seeing my look he said “It’s probably wisest not to leave her alone at this stage.”

Our final stop before the hotel was the Sheriff-still in his plaster cast. “Evenin’ Folks. Anything I can do for you?” I explained that Miryam had been raided and what had happened to Dr. Anderson, and that Miles role in all this was a bit suspect. “Ok I’ll hold him and send word to the Territorial Marshal’s Office; they’ll want to know about this if there’s an outback gang operating somewhere. Just like the movies eh?”

With Miles safely incarcerated we finally headed to the hotel. As usual, at least it seemed to us, there were a crowd of gawkers outside looking in through the window. “Maybe someone else arrived in Town” suggested Vincent. The crowd pretended not to be there as we entered the hotel.

In we walked again, and the owner was serving a dish of food (chilli, beans and rice with a hunk of bread) to a man sat alone at one of the tables, over which a chequered cloth had been arranged I noticed. The man had his back to us, but was sipping from a cup of coffee, the strong aroma wafting through the room.

I booked us our rooms-unsurprisingly there were sufficient vacancies- and we dumped our stuff on the one side and asked for the same. The owner shuffled out to the kitchen, and we sat down on the table next to the eating man. He looked up, and stood up as Maria, Laura and Sylvie went to sit down “After you Ma’am” he said, in a peculiar old-fashioned type of drawl. Maria looked a bit nonplussed-I’m not sure they have manners on Venus. I nudged her and she sat down.

“Good evening Sir”, I offered, “My name is Lars Johannssen, and you are…?”

“Uh Presley, my name is Elvis Presley. Pleased to meet ya’ all.” He shook hands with me, and with the others as I introduced them. He seemed a nice young chap and very polite. I could see the local nosy parkers were still looking in. Elvis looked a bit embarrassed.

“I’d hoped to come here all quiet like, but I had a run in with one of the local mining boys and had to send him out with a bit of a flea in his pants. Unfortunately it sparked quite a bit of interest I guess. I just wanted to be treated like a regular customer, but I guess that plan’s gone out the window.”

Our food arrived and we pitched in. Thankfully it wasn’t micro waved, which was a real pleasure after the last few days. “I guess I’ll see you all in the morning” said Elvis, “I got some stuff to do before I turn in, and I need to think about what to do now. I can’t stay here I ain’t got that much time. Goodnight all. Ladies.” He bowed and went upstairs.

“He looks kind of familiar” said Vincent “His name mean anything to you?”. Shakings of the head all round.

“His manners were kind of strange” said Maria, “What was all that stuff about waiting for me to sit down?”

“He was being the gentleman” said Sylvie, “It was a pleasure to see-sometimes you meet some of the older miners and settlers who speak to you like that. It is odd yes, but it is respectful I think. He perhaps comes from an old fashioned family, yes?”

After food we broke up and went to our rooms. Everyone needed a shower and rest, and I guessed there would be a rush for the gym the next day as we all needed to catch up: in fact Sylvie was determined to put in a couple of hours before bedtime-but then again I gather she is some sort of Martial Arts enthusiast from the books she leaves lying around.

I had a shower and then logged on using the old fashioned room terminal and typed up my report of the last few days events: best to get it over and done with. I was pouring some coffee after I’d finished just before midnight, when I received a screen link from Hiro.

“Read your report- good work but worrying stuff. So the current status of the base?”

“Full of damaged/ dead bad guys, plus the ones who went off in the buggies before we attacked” I replied. “We left Miles with the local Sheriff because I’m not convinced he wasn’t involved in whatever was going on here, and he said he’d send a report in to the area Marshal.”

“He’s already done it, and there is more to it than that. I’ve been contacted by the UWC Wardens who’ve asked for base plans and all personnel details on Miles. I was going to hire a couple of ArmTec APC Rovers to check out and secure the base, but they’ve put a hold on that. Presumably they have their own ideas but we’ll have to wait and see.” I was surprised the Sheriff had already sent in his report quite frankly; I hadn’t tagged him as the efficient type.

“They’ll want to talk to Derik, Denise and the rest of you when you return to Mariner too. In the meantime they’ve instructed me, to instruct you all, that you’re not to talk about this incident to anyone: I’ve attached their D Notice, which has all your names on it. My advice is to abide by it-the wardens have extreme legal powers. My understanding is also that you all have an appointment in their Mars Bureau office within three hours of the Magrail arrival, six days from now.”

He shrugged, “Why the wardens are interested in a bunch of backwoods rapists and murderers is beyond me-it looks like a local problem to me. But there it is…”

“Anyway, you’re due back in six days. Poor Derik has been traipsing around the wilderness on LFC’s behalf for over two months, so he’s due a week leave when he gets back. We will sign the papers as soon as you wish to on your return, and I’ll allow an extra 3 days for setting the ship and cargo in order. My projected ETA for your departure to the platform is 16 days from now on 2158-031 (SET 31.1.2158) if that’s ok, and I’ll make arrangements for preparation of the cargos. Either way you’ll have a bit of free time when you get back-so take some time and relax. Maybe you can get tickets for the big Elvis concert in Founder’s Square next week?. Anyway I’ll let you get some rest.”

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