January 31st 2013
Tonya stormed down the hall with Senzen strolling along after her. The Shubin employees got out of her way. Minutes earlier, Arlington had passed off the two of them to one of his assistants, who explained expense accounts and contact protocol. She barely paid attention; she was still fuming from the stunt Senzen had pulled.
“So where do you want to start looking?” Senzen grinned as he kicked the hornet’s nest. It worked. Tonya whirled back.
“How the hell did you sell him on that line of crap?” She shoved him. “You couldn’t have known what I found.” Shove #2.
“For someone so fascinated with civilizations, you really should try to learn more about people.”
“Tell me,” she said and shoved him another time. Senzen sighed.
“Arlington’s probably the only person in the universe who couldn’t care less about the Artemis.” An assistant ran up to Senzen and delivered a cup of coffee. “Ah, wonderful, thanks,” he smiled at the assistant, then turned back to Tonya. “I just told him that we’d been working on analyzing the fragment and found something that could be huge. I didn’t want to speak out of turn before your analysis was done so I rushed here to secure a quick meeting. His imagination, or whatever program in his head handles that function, did the rest.”
Tonya glared at him. Senzen sipped from his coffee and waited.
“You stay out of my way.”
“That’s it?” Senzen shook his head, disappointed. “Come on Tonya, you used to be wittier than that.”
“How about, you don’t stand a chance against me and you know it.” She turned and walked away.
“Eh, better,” Senzen yelled, “but I might surprise you.”
* * * *
By the time Tonya climbed back onto her ship, her mind had dismantled the threat of Senzen Turov. He was a smart explorer, sure, but Tonya knew his gift was sociological rather than historical. Back during their doomed partnership, he could weasel information out of the unlikeliest of sources, but this was the Artemis. There was no one to talk to, no snitch to give up information, it was all locked in history. That was Tonya’s specialty.
She ignited the engines when a thought, a single paranoid, thought seized her. Maybe Senzen was right; she needed to start studying people. Starting with the possibility that he would bug her. She ran a ship-wide sweep along the hull for outbound signals. As it ran, she pulled the wrapping off her new DeCon/Scan chamber and set it to do the same.
Tonya hopped in. The sensor bars swung around her. It seemed like she was in the clear until … ping.
“Son of a —“ she stepped out and looked at the screen. Sure enough, a transmitter no bigger than a pebble was attached under her collar. She tossed it in the incinerator.
The ship-wide sweep was done too. No unauthorized modifications or signals were being broadcast.
“Nice try, Senzen,” Tonya muttered as she lifted off. A wall of dark clouds slowly rolled in from the horizon. Tonya watched an army of Shubin engineers prepare to transport the Artemis fragment inside before the storm hit. She pushed through the clouds and left the planet behind.
Tonya set course for the nearest jump point. She needed to be alone. She had a new puzzle and she needed to see what she had to work with, so the fewer distractions, the better.
She bounced through the jump-point into Chronos System. The unfinished mass of the Synthworld was barely visible against the distant sun. UEE military ran drills nearby, but Tonya was able to find a nice patch of nothing. She put the ship on auto-react and climbed down from the cockpit into the back.
She brought out all her materials and sorted everything onto the wall display.
First things first; she set a program to convert her pictures into a 3D model. Then she turned to the starmap. The Artemis’ original destination was GJ 667Cc, believed (at the time) to be a possible habitable super-Earth designate planet. The Artemis fragment was found in Stanton System, nowhere near the correct trajectory for a push to the Gliese star cluster.
So what happened? Why did the ship divert? In keeping with her hypothesis that the Artemis set down to repair, would Janus continue to its original destination when the ship re-launched?
Tonya scavenged through books and articles. Immediately she decided to discard anything that was not verifiably true. Biographies, dissertations, simulations were speculation. Although some great minds had attempted to solve the mystery of the Artemis, ultimately they were guessing, and Tonya wasn’t going to color the new evidence with preconceived notions.
Unfortunately, that approach knocked out ninety-eight percent of available material. What was left was only scraps of data, the occasional pre-launch quote from a crewmember, and NewsOrg archive files about the launch itself — the moment when Janus assumed control of the ship and fired its engines out of known space.
Four hours passed. Tonya stared at the wall, with its swollen list of questions and non-existent list of answers. Tonya spun the 3D model of the Artemis fragment around and around, hoping for some kind of inspiration to hit.
It wasn’t coming.
Something did occur to her, though. The Hartley Museum. Years ago, Tonya recalled seeing an article about the museum’s attempts to unveil the “most comprehensive Artemis exhibit to date, with shocking new evidence” or some such nonsense. At the time, she disregarded it as cheap theatrics to lure in the suckers.
Now, maybe it was worth a gander.
* * * *
The Hartley Museum certainly paled in comparison to the more venerable establishments on London’s Museum Row. Its façade was crumbling, and not in an venerable way. Tattered recycled banners fluttered out front heralding the “Parade of the Ancient Earth Kings” exhibit.
Tonya bought a ticket from a dour old man at the window and pushed through the cheap security turnstile. The place was empty. Her footsteps echoed off the almost-marble walls into the distance. She casually examined a collection of skeletons and husks made up to look like Ancient Egyptians. She stopped at a sarcophagus with the skeleton of a ‘pharaoh’ inside.
“Good afternoon, miss,” a bright voice said behind her. She turned. It was the same old man from the ticket booth, now wearing a different jacket and glasses. “This is the mortal remains of the mighty Pharaoh Khafra, architect of the immortal Sphinx of Gaza.”
“Pharaoh Khafra?” Tonya nodded. She leaned in to get a better look at the remains.
“Indeed. His reign in the fourth dynasty was –“
“This was a slave.”
“I beg your pardon,” the old man said in a huff.
“Stress and bone scars around the ankles indicate he carried heavy objects, so he probably was an architect on the Sphinx but more of the stone-carrying variety.”
The old man stared at her, stunned with a little embarrassment thrown in.
“It’s okay,” she assured him. “I wanted to ask you about the Artemis exhibit you were trying to put on.”
“Oh, I wish,” he said, deflating even more. “That was meant to be our lifeline to salvation. I sank every last penny we had trying to collect all that memorabilia.”
“So it’s here?”
“The bank seized it as collateral for defaulted loans.” He slumped onto a bench. “Tell me, how am I supposed to pay them back if I don’t have any new exhibits to sell tickets?”
“What did you buy?”
“It was a handful of Captain Danvers’ personal journals, schematics and test footage of the ship, an original copy of the Janus AI, I even managed to —”
“Whoa, slow down.” Tonya slid beside him on the bench. “You found a copy of the AI program?”
“Janus? Yes, and it wasn’t cheap, mind you.”
“What’s the name of the bank?”
The old man, Melvin Hartley Jr. as she came to find out, told her. Tonya left Hartley to his silent and empty museum while she did some digging of her own.
The bank’s representative was helpful but dismissive. She said the bank would consider any serious offers to purchase the artifacts but it would have to be reviewed, which could take weeks.
Unfortunately, Tonya didn’t have that kind of time.
She was going to have to steal them.