Nils returned his attention to driving the crawler, letting Deputy Miller sleep. He wondered why she was tired. He mused that her wrecking his crawler interior looking for contraband should have been exhausting, though he figured it came easy to her. His epitaph would likely read Miller wrecked his world. Her favor, whatever it was, would likely carve that epitaph in lunar basalt.
Nils looked at Miller sleeping, realizing his eyes remained fixed on her. Forcing his eyes to the controls, he noted that the crawler continued following the ruts. Satisfied, he tried shaking the thoughts of the deputy out of his head–he had plenty to do without letting his mind wander. After what happened three years ago, Miller would never allow you near her, he thought. So, give up on the idea.
Nils drove for some minutes, cresting the hill he had named the western rise. After some thought, he decided to wake Miller, regardless of the consequences. I should tell her. If the moment went to hell, he could reach Conrad Station within twenty minutes' drive–allowing him a quick exit instead of the four-hour trek to and from his habitat. He envisioned it happening. She might even consider it. Maybe this time will be right. Once she said–then the phone rang.
“Carmike,” he answered automatically on speaker, seeing that the crawler followed the ruts of the lunar road.
“Nils,” said the voice he recognized as Milton Johnson. “Did you tell that stupid story again?”
“Which story?” Nils knew the context of the question. Milton had harassed Nils without end a few nights back about Nils’s bar-room story telling. Nils told many stories when he was at the bar. Mostly, it was an easy way to pay for his drinks. Tourists were fond of old days on the moon, and Nils had many stories about the old days. Nils made most of the stories up. They included several where he included an old prospector called ‘Morgan’ Johnson, based a lot on Milton. Milton hated the character.
“The stupid prospector story about the water.” Milton answered, sounding somewhat condescending. “The one you use the old prospector.”
“It’s one of the crowd favorites.” Nils answered. “I think they like it. It fills their heads with a feeling for exploration. Like it or not, we are the old-timers. Don’t you remember? We made it here before everyone... before Selene Corp... before Lunadyne. The stories about Morgan are a way to honor those times. Besides, it helps me make ends meet when jobs are scarce.”
Nelson heard Milt scoff after a few moments had passed, indicating that the signal was using a distant relay such as Earth or L5. “It’s sentimental nonsense. If you want to make some real money, I've got a job for you.”
“Wha’...” He heard Miller's drowsy voice from the rear of the crawler.
“Milt, I–” Nils tried looking for his earpiece, realizing that Miller heard everything. He did not find it.
“Look I have got very little time.” Milton’s voice sounded impatient.
“Sure, give me a second.” Nils still tried in vain to cut off the speaker and use the earpiece.
“Nils, I need you to go up to Hab 18.”
“What the hell for?” Nils asked, still annoyed that he did not know where the earpiece had gone. But Milton’s request further disturbed him. Hab 18 was an automated habitat for the Great Northern Road that Nils and Milton had set up twenty years prior. Before completion of the road, the parent company Amalgamated had gone bankrupt, forcing Milton and Nils to return home. Hab 18 was nearly the final station along the road linking Mare Frigoris with a point near the Lunar North Pole. Going to Hab 18 seemed stupid.
“Look Nils,” Milton answered. “I need you to get up there.”
“What for?” Nils asked, trying to understand the unusual request. They abandoned the Great Northern Road company, selling its assets to an unknown buyer for pennies on the dollar. The hope was that the buyer would hire them back and run the road. Nils and Milton had returned to Earth, hoping for a new opportunity. Returning to the moon a few years later, Nils had a job surveying some Gordonville construction sites for the colony habitats. Nils used his connections to smuggle the needed construction equipment and recreational supplies.
Milton grumbled, sounding annoyed. “I left a data pad up there.”
“A data pad? When?”
“I need you to get it for me. I’m heading down to Tycho tomorrow, and I’ll be there over a month.”
“Milt, I–” Nils sighed, knowing that Miller was listening to every word.
“I’ll cover your costs.” Milton continued to pitch the job.
“Milt–” Nils tried once again to over-speak the fast-talking Milton.
“Plus, thirty thousand.”
“Uh,” Nils felt he could not refuse.
“But I need you to have it for me by the time I return.” Milton stated, “Can you do it?”
“Sure,” Nils answered, realizing he had guaranteed Miller a payday. He felt that there was no way to convince her otherwise. She would get her ten percent. He would never find a way of preventing it.
“Great, talk to you soon,” Milton finished.
Nils heard the connection break then asked Miller. “You heard?”
“Interesting,” he heard Miller’s remark.
“Yeah,” Nils answered in a sarcastic tone. “Looks like your favor will have to wait.”
“Perfect,” she answered. “I can go with you and we’ll discuss the favor.”
Nils grimaced. “Look deputy, I know you want your cut. I can even give you a bonus, but I don’t want to take you up there.”
“I don’t think you have a choice,” Miller answered. “Since you had agreed to do a favor for me, you were under my employ. Your new job has been part of the original agreement.”
“Wait–Miller–shit.” Nils grumbled then rolled his eyes. “How much this time?”
She smiled. “I’ll keep my cut the same for this venture.”
“All right,” Nils answered, realizing that she wasn’t likely to see reason soon. So he dropped the subject until later. He hoped he could trade a larger cut for her staying behind. It had been years since he last saw the GNR, in fact he left it as an unfinished monument to his quest to find his way to the moon. Perhaps he needed to see the roads and habitats again. One more time to prove what he had believed–that it was worth it. “I need to go to the hab first. I’ll need some extra equipment if I’m going out to the northern road.”
“Fine,” she answered as she moved up to the front seat next to him. He noted with some satisfaction she did not correct his ‘I’ to a ‘we’. It gave him hope.
“I’m thinking it’s best we keep going out there.” He checked the auto-driver and leaned back glancing toward her. She returned his glance with a slight smile that considered courteous. Surprised, he felt his heart race. “–unless you need to get back for something.”
“No,” she answered, a slight worry crossed her features.
“What’s up, Miller?” He looked at her wondering what she might worry about.
“It’s nothing.” She waved off the question without response.
Her favor did not seem simple anymore. Every time he mentioned returning to Conrad station, she rejected it in an instant. Could she be hiding from something or someone? “Good, I won't go back until we get a hopper.”
“Good,” she sighed.
“So, this favor,” Nils smiled, more to himself than her. “What does it involve?” He glanced at her as he spoke, hoping she received his unspoken message.
“Let’s talk about that later,” she answered. “I’ve something else in mind.”
“Like what?” Nils asked with a grin, feeling she had received his message.
“You have a dirty mind.”
“Sure,” Nils quipped his playful confirmation of the unspoken. “You give me inspiration.”
“All in good time,” she murmured, though Nils thought he had seen her blush.
“Okay,” Nils tried changing the subject. “What did you really have in mind?”
“I’m curious about Hab 18.”
Damn, he thought.