Serial Saturday #2.11: The Oasis
Harcourt was on his third cup of coffee when the comm activated. "Onyeisi, we're coming into range of the Oasis."
"Finally," Harcourt sighed. It had been a long two days. First, the winds were stronger than forecast, which had threatened to push them further off course. He'd finally ordered a hard burn late last night to get them there and the turbulence had been awful. Second, was spending whole nights staring at his ceiling.
Ema leaned back in the chair as far as the limited space would allow her. "Hopefully, we find some answers here."
"Let's hope," Harcourt said. "Any word from Sendero?"
Ema shook her head. "No, but they were putting in at Lo Shen City, and you know how the fundies can be about communications."
Harcourt grimaced. "At least her story seems to be on the level." The news bulletin from New Toliara appeared to corroborate Sarah's story. The body of a young woman had been found in an apartment. Another young woman was missing. Riots had broken out near the docking involving Armscor mercenaries.
Ema shuddered. "I hope that part wasn't true."
"If they're trying to wedge their way in here, it's gonna get bloody," Harcourt shrugged. "Too many people who remember the Consolidation."
Harcourt's family had been Venusian for a few generations now, but Ema's twin brother had died in the Great Western Offensive that swept aside a dozen nations in West Africa. Armscor had supplied the pro-Consolidation forces will all their military hardware. People remembered that.
"I know who we should see," Ema cast a sidelong glance at Harcourt and smiled.
"There's only one person who'd have a read on what Armscor may or may not be doing," Ema grinned. "Or one Artificial Intelligence anyway."
"No," Harcourt shook his head. "No way."
"You know he's the best person for this."
Harcourt didn't say anything for a long moment before finally: "Damn it."
Ema laughed as she stepped past him to get to the door of the berth they had been working in. "I'll get us docked. You go find Sarah and prepare her. I'm sure she's never been to an Oasis before."
Sarah waited in the transparent umbilical connecting the Enugu to the docking bay of the Oasis. Harcourt had insisted she gear up in the acid-resistant clothing and take a breather because, as he had informed her in an annoyingly paternalistic tone: "In there, anything goes and anything can happen."
She knew about the Oases, of course, everyone did. Venus had no water, so comet wranglers and water dealers had proliferated- most of the City-States had exclusive contracts for water delivery. But the ships that traversed the skies of Venus needed stations to resupply, so the Venusian Transit Authority had supplied them. The VTA kept the water under high security and the rest of the Oases had been occupied by a noxious mixture of traders, ne'er do well entrepreneurs and criminals.
The docking bay door swung open and the first thing Sarah noticed was the cacophony of noise. Shouts, music, the low buzz of humanity. Harcourt glanced over his shoulder. "Stay close, we'll move fast."
Sarah nodded. Then Harcourt stepped through, followed by Sarah with Ema and Kamara bringing up the rear. His shoulders thrown back, Harcourt moved with a confidence that Sarah didn't feel. She tried not to gawk at the vendors, bars, and gambling dens. Her stomach growled as they passed a series of restaurants. Eventually, Harcourt slowed to a halt at a storefront.
The storefront stood out. It was gleaming silver and unlike the grubbiness of the rest of the Oasis, there wasn't a spot of dirt anywhere on the entrance. Harcourt stepped up to the silver doors, tapped out "Shave and a Haircut" and then, from the inside of the door, two knocks echoed in reply. Harcourt rolled his eyes and then stood back as the door opened and fog poured out. "Welcome," a stentorian voice proclaimed, "to the Office of the M-m-mad Economist! Where all your c-c-crazy dreams come t-t-t-t-true!"
Harcourt led them inside. At the far end of the room, an android sat in an alcove. Harcourt stepped up to the side of it and slipped a data stick into a slot. The droid's face lit up and its eyes started blinking. Harcourt stepped back and, curious, Sarah stepped over to Ema.
"What... is it?"
Ema sighed. "Long story short, some crazy cable news talking head from Terra uploaded himself. Now multiple copies of him are all over the solar system, watching stock exchanges, monitoring megacorp maneuverings, things of that nature. If Armscor is up to something on Venus, they'd be the one to know."
The flashing lights on the droid's eyes suddenly stopped blinking. "Ru-roh, Raggy!" It said in a slurred, dog-like whine. Then the voice changed: "We've got b-b-b-b-b-b-big trouble in Little China!" It sounded huskier and more masculine. "The c-c-c-corporations have been trying to find a way in and I think they've finally f-f-found it. The Treaty of Ganymede is in danger. Buy stock in BHP Glenc-c-core or Armscor today! Full analysis to follow!"