A long night in hell, p.1
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       A Long Night in Hell, p.1

           Jack Stornoway
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A Long Night in Hell


  A Long Night in Hell

  Jack Stornoway

  Copyright 2017 Jack Stornoway

  The ride down the elevator to Agni Mining Station was like a ride into Hell itself. On a planet where you could never quite get warm enough, it quickly became uncomfortably warm, then uncomfortably hot. G. Drew Akers had been in deep mines before, he'd worked in one for two years in Hussy Crater in his early twenties. He'd decided then that he never wanted to return to one, fortunately he wouldn't be in this one long. But that mine in Hussy had only been two kilometres below the surface of Mars, this mine was almost twelve.

  At the mine in Hussy he rode an elevator like this one twice each day, but here the miners lived below. Agni Mining Station was a small self-contained town at the bottom of the elevator shaft. He reached up and wiped the sweat from his brow. He'd only been in the elevator a few minutes, and already his clothes were soaked with sweat, and he was developing a headache. He opened his jacket hoping the sweat would evaporate, and in the process exposed the butt of the pistol in his shoulder holster.

  “Careful with that glock,” the thin, short man sitting across the elevator said in a European accent. “They'll lock you up if they catch you with a gun down there.”

  “Right, thanks,” Akers replied in his British accent and closed his jacket.

  “Herminius Schwinghammer,” the thin man introduced himself. “Call me Zeus.”

  “Zeus?” Akers asked.

  “My middle name,” Zeus explained. “Herminius Schwinghammer is a mouthful. I am from Ulysses District, up in Pavonis Region. Old European mining colony, lots of long names up there. I haven't seen you down here before. New?”

  “Just visiting,” Akers answered. “You work down here?”

  “Me? No, I'm a Justice with the Bureau of Corporate Affairs,” Zeus stated. “I visit here once a month to check that the Bharat Zirconium Corporation is staying within its mandate. I was just leaving the CMZ when I got word of the homicide and had to come back.”

  “Is it this hot down below?” Akers asked.

  “Even hotter,” Zeus answered. “Believe it or not, you get used to it. I even look forward to it sometimes, when it is too cold up top.”

  “I can't imagine looking forward to this,” Akers stated. At the mine in Hussy the elevator had gone straight down into the mine, and the ride only took a few minutes. This elevator travelled down the old mineshaft, abruptly changing direction every few minutes with a grinding jolt. Bharat Zirconium had been mining this vein for a century and a half, it was one of the Solar System's primary sources of Zirconium and a major source of Titanium. The mine predated the Mars Treaty a century earlier which had put the region under the Sudamérican Colonial Authority. Bharat Zirconium was awarded a Corporate Mining Zone, autonomous from Sudamérican authority and taxation, know as the Madhabani CMZ.

  Since the revolution a decade earlier the newly independent Ares Confederacy had left the Corporate Mining Zones more or less intact. The Bharat Zirconium Corporation had once been an Indian Corporation, before India had been annexed by the Singapore Conglomerate. Now Bharat Zirconium, and its CMZ, were under the authority and taxation of the Singapore Conglomerate, one of the Earth's most powerful corporate governments. All of the Corporate Mining Zones fell under the authority and taxation of one the Earth governments, and the young Ares Confederacy didn't want to risk a war with any of them by interfering too much with the mines. It was a touchy subject as the Confederacy had rejected capitalism, which was the basis of the Mars Treaty and the Corporate Mining Zones.

  Up on the surface the CMZ had grown into a city of over a hundred thousand, all under the authority of Bharat Zirconium. The CMZ maintained its own legal system, its own corporate registry, its own tax regime, its own police force, even its own currency, the Madhabani Rupee. It was effectively a state within a state, and as none of the Earth governments had yet to recognize the independence of the Confederacy, a political hot-potato. A problem in a CMZ could theoretically be used as an excuse for an Earth government to invade the Confederacy.

  The elevator dropped suddenly jarring Akers back to the reality of this elevator ride. Across the elevator a woman groaned, obviously experiencing motion sickness. She was young, maybe twenty-five, with a light brown complexion, short cut hair dyed blue, and large dark eyes. Her skin was that faded greyish-brown of a Mars-born. The Earth-born all had richer darker skin shades. Akers had noticed her when he got into the elevator. She didn't look like miner, everyone else on the elevator looked like they belonged on it, everyone except this Justice Schwinghammer. He was most likely on the elevator for the same reason as Akers. His suit made it clear he wasn't a miner, he was a bureaucrat. Anywhere else, his suit would indicate he worked for a corporation. Here it meant he worked for either Bharat Zirconium or the Confederacy, and it was unlikely a corporate bureaucrat would ever go down to the mines. Akers' guess had been correct, a government bureaucrat.

  The air conditioning system in the elevator whined, its pitch shifting as the elevator made its way down the shaft. Outside the air-pressure was increasing, by the time they reached the station it was higher than the air-pressure inside the elevator. The elevator doors hissed opened to a world as hot as the inside of the elevator, and the miners all got up and started clambering out. Akers remained in his seat, and checked his com, the temperature was over forty degrees Celsius. As the miners cleared the elevator Akers saw that Zeus had also remained in his seat; the young woman had apparently left with the miners.

  “Time to go to work,” Zeus said slipping a com into his pocket and standing up. Akers wasn't sure if it was a statement or a question. He followed Zeus out of the elevator into a passage-way that led to a large dome-topped promenade two stories high, with doors and passageways branching in every direction. In the dome above them an image of a blue sky with white wispy clouds was being projected, an odd-looking thing for someone born on Mars. Akers realized that this was it, the Chhatri, the largest open area in Agni Station, it seemed cramped compared to its description in the corporate brochure, probably because of the unnatural colour of the sky. Several dozen people were roaming around the promenade, most were probably in cooler areas, assuming there were any.

  One of the doors had a Yama Hotel sign lit up on one side of it, and presumably the same thing written in the local script on the other side. Akers couldn't read the local script, but knew from his pre-case research it was Odia, a language from India. Akers walked into the microscopic lobby of the hotel, which was essentially just a passage with a concierge computer screen on one wall. He stopped at the concierge screen and stated, “English interface. Room for Sherlock Holmes.”

  “One single for Sherlock Holmes Detective Agency of Manchester, Hussy District,” the Concierge computer replied in English with a Singapore accent. “Booked until further notice. Room Number Two. First door on the right.”

  “Room Two?” Akers muttered to himself as he walked down the narrow hallway. “Busy place.”

  The room was almost as small as the lobby, just a bed with computer screen on one wall. Somewhere down the passageway there would be a communal washroom. Akers dropped the small bag he was carrying on the bed, glad he'd packed light. He turned to the computer screen and adjusted the air-conditioning for the room to the maximum and agreed to pay the extra cost, then headed down the passageway for a shower. The shower was cool and refreshing, but everything else was still sweltering. When he got back to the hotel room the temperature was down to thirty degrees Celsius., which suddenly seemed cold in comparison to the hallway. He set the air-conditioning to stay at that temperature, and headed out to find something to eat.

  The food in Madhabani CMZ was said to be some of the best on Mars, and he'd be
en looking forward to it, but he was now wondering how good it would be down here in the heat of Agni Station. He stepped back out into the Chhatri and looked around, most of the signs were in Odia, a few were also in Spanish. Restaurante Barfi, that was probably a restaurant but didn't sound very appealing. Cafetería Golguppa, that didn't sound very appealing either. Chicken Frankies, that was in English, a good sign, Akers' Spanish was poor, and his Odia was non-existent.

  Inside Chicken Frankies the temperature was noticeably cooler than outside in the Chhatri. It looked like it was part of some kind of fast-food chain, although Akers had never heard of it. The restaurant had a series of booths on one side and a bar along on the other side. About half the booths were occupied by miners, but there were only a few people at the bar. Akers sat down at the bar and looked at the menu screen on the counter, choosing English from the language options. Most of the menu was dedicated to something like a burrito, which could be filled with chicken, tofu, falafel, or garbanzo beans. There were also fresh salads, frozen yogurts, frozen soy-creams, and mango juice.

  It was more variety than Akers was
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