Nils drove toward his home habitat.
“Hab 18?” Miller asked again, though Nils avoided the subject for the past hour.
“Miller, how about I give you a bigger cut with my job from Milton–”
“I’d always take a bigger cut,” she grinned.
“–in exchange for you not going with me.”
“Out of the question,” Deputy Miller snapped back quickly. “I’ve got to look out for my investment.”
“What investment?” Nils grumbled.
“The value of my ten percent of the thirty-thousand, plus expenses.” Miller stated, then her voice softened. “Plus, I think it will be a perfect way to ask you for my favor.”
“What is it about, Miller?” Nils asked, his own voice softening. “Can’t you give me a hint?”
“No,” she almost whispered. “Not yet.”
They sat silently as the crawler navigated the track heading toward his habitat.
“We’re about three hours away from my hab,” Nils said, breaking the awkward silence.
“Any surprises?” Deputy Miller asked.
“Like letting me in on Hab 18?
“What will you give me for it?” Nils sparred, hoping to agitate her.
“Fine, keep your secret!” Miller snapped. She furrowed her brows.
“We’ll get to it,” Nils answered. He reconsidered. Agitating her seemed stupid. “I’ve got an idea.”
“What?” Miller asked.
“Let’s call a truce.” Nils suggested.
“What do you propose?” Miller’s voice softened again.
“We’ll set the discussion about Hab 18 aside for a while. I’ll stop asking you about the favor.”
“Fair enough,” she said.
“Thanks,” Nils smiled and checked the auto-drive, ensuring that they were still on course.
“What should we talk about instead?”
“How about the Urubuan Marshal’s visit?” Nils asked, wondering what they had been looking for.
“Mostly informal,” Deputy Miller answered. “They seemed concerned about how the Department was organized.”
“How so?” Nils added: “I mean you handle things fairly well. We have no real crime at Conrad.”
“Ha. Coming from one of its most upstanding citizens.”
“Yeah, I’m planning to run for Station Council,” he jabbed. “How so?”
“They wanted to know how our jurisdiction fit within American law enforcement. It surprised him that we don’t.”
“You’re surprised?” She asked, Nils noticed that her face betrayed astonishment.
“Well – I mean, yes,” Nils fumbled. “I didn’t realize that you aren’t connected with something.”
“It's simple,” Miller answered. “The department is part of Lunadyne security. If we have a real crime to report, we need to contact the appropriate agency.”
“You’re not a cop?” Nils challenged.
“So, if you assume that,” Miller growled. “I’ll put you in a body cast for sure.”
“No,” Nils steered away from the challenge. “I meant that I don’t understand how Lunadyne security fits.”
“Honestly, that is what the Marshals were asking.”
“What did you explain that made sense to them?”
“I can arrest whoever they need arrested. If a major crime occurs, I need to report it to the appropriate authority. I can arrest anyone and hold them until the Earth side authority pick them up. Also, I have the abilty to protect the company assets from destruction,” she answered.
“What does that mean?”
“Exactly what I said. If some asshole were attempting to break open a door to vacuum, I would stop him. I’d take him down if needed.”
Nils thought as he monitored the progress of the auto-drive. Why is she being so open about it? She’s been pissed at me for going on three years now. What has changed? She is almost being nice.
She knew about the smuggling. He had told her in so many words. Obviously, she could have arrested him on many occasions, but she did not.
“What’s with the arrangement?” Nils asked.
“You mean the ten percent?” She grinned.
“Yeah, that and the other fees,” He said wondering about the cat-and-mouse game they played. She’d find him about once a month and force him to pay some fee to have her look the other way.
“So, you’re wanting to renegotiate our deal?”
“Let me remind you Nils,” She smiled. “Our arrangement is that you need to pay a ten percent fee for you to continue doing business at the bar.”
“–payable before I leave the station. We’ve been through that.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Forget it,” he said. Nils didn’t want to pursue it further. He could not afford to. Paying Miller had become a cost of doing business, and he could not afford to pay more.
But it had never gone beyond the occasional hassle. Miller had never asked him to drive anywhere. She had never inserted herself in any of his other business. Why now? He wondered. What had changed?
Upon their arrival at the habitat, Nils needed to drive from the back of the crawler, peering out the rear airlock. As he moved to the rear to drive, he felt Miller follow him. She seemed close as he steered the crawler to dock with his hab. As the airlocks connected in a hard dock, he hit the brakes causing Miller to bump into him from behind.
“Excuse me,” she said after the collision. He wondered if he felt one of her shoulders or if her breast had bounced off his back. The latter created an image that took a few moments to shake.
He glanced to her, “No problem,” as he rose and moved toward the rear of the hab. He felt her brush against him as he moved past. Once to the rear of the crawler he glanced back at her. She seemed to blush a moment. He smiled, thinking past the moment, and cursing himself for letting her disrupt him so much. Miller’s intentions, as three years of experience had shown, remained mysterious. Before she could break his concentration again, he turned and worked the door.
“So, this is your hab?” She said as he opened the airlock.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Anything illegal found will be accidental. I believe that everything is legal here.”
“Nils,” her voice took on a soothing tenor. “Relax. If I wanted to bust you, I would have showed up last week when you had your last shipment here.”
How did she know? And, why did she seem to let me off the hook.
“Nils I’m joking. What part of relax didn’t you understand?”
“I’m not here to bust you,” she glared. “Remember, I need a favor. That is why you brought me here. Besides, I doubt I have jurisdiction here.”
“Huh?” Not understand her statement about jurisdiction.
“Oh, yes.” Nils settled himself, feeling his guts shoved one direction as his mind went another. “What is the favor?”
“All in good time,” Miller looked at him. “Are we going to stand in the airlock, or are you going to show me your place?”
“Oh, yeah.” Nils willed himself to move to open the airlock door and enter the habitat. “It's small, but it’s home.”
“Very nice,” he saw her smile as they made eye contact when she entered the habitat.
“I hope it isn’t too much of a mess. I keep broken equipment. I’ve found that I can use it later.” They held parts he could use for raw materials. He got into the habit of sorting them in the habitat before placing them in the equipment lockers. He focused on those things impossible to build using a three-dimensional printer. Some metals and some fibers had remained out of reach from the technology. So, anything having a non-printable part got his attention.
“Not at all,” Miller smiled.
“The kitchen is over here,” he said as he walked across the small room. “Water is here. Coffee is here—meals in the freezer—microwave.” He pointed to the items as he named them. He stepped around the freezer and pointed. “I have a bedroom and bath back here. You’re more than welcome to the shower and anything you need.”
“A shower sounds good.” Miller stepped toward the doorway.
“There is not much privacy.” He shrugged, “I’ve got some stuff to work on in the crawler.
“Nils,” she said, placing a hand on his sleeve, “It’s okay.”
“Thanks,” is all he could think to say. He turned toward the crawler.
He took his time, needing to be away from her. Regardless of how he felt about her being in his business from time to time, he still found her way too attractive to be in close confines with her for too long. Though he trusted himself, he wondered how long he could maintain his restraint. Especially, when he thought of her naked in his shower. All he felt like he needed was a nod of approval and he would be upon her in an instant.
As he reorganized the crawler, he realized that his mind had been on her the entire time. He needed to spend some time on planning the trip to Hab 18. It would be difficult regardless. With Deputy Miller along for the ride, difficult could translate into impossible.
He needed a hopper, a rocket attachment, to carry the crawler form Conrad station to Mare Frigoris. From there, they would drive up to Hab 18 along the Great Northern Road. Once collecting the pad, they would drive back to the landing and take the hopper back to Conrad Station. It seemed easy, though there were a thousand things that could go wrong.
One thing remained clear to him. Nils needed to convince Miller to abandon her insistence upon going with him. The journey was far too dangerous.
He entered the habitat after unloading the crawler. As he turned, he could see her in the kitchen, looking through his cabinets. Wearing nothing but a long tee shirt that revealed her cheeks, she reached into an upper cabinet.
He smiled to himself, moving toward the kitchen. Glancing over her shoulder, she gave a slight smile. “Where the hell do you keep the coffee?”
“Second drawer from the top,” he answered, “next to the cups and spoons.” He stopped and admired her as she opened the drawer and prepared the beverage.
She smiled, retrieving the cups. “I thought we should talk.”
“Yeah,” Nils answered as he watched her. She heated the water and made the coffee.
“So,” she said, “The naked truth.”
“The nearly naked truth,” he observed.
“Oh–” Miller smiled, tugging at the tee shirt.
“What’s this about?” Nils tensed, realizing that she had been manipulating him again.
“Look,” she sat down at the table, setting the cups down for them. “I’m trying to make a peace offering Nils.”
“Sure,” he answered sitting down across from her. “And then you will demand your cut and insist that it's the only way you don’t turn me over to either the American or Urubuan Marshals. I’ve heard all this before, Deputy.”
“How much was my cut?”
“So,” she leaned forward, taking a sip of coffee. “I take ten percent.”
“Ten percent, but you specify the value?”
“Then you could have been lying to me about the value.” She lifted her coffee and took a sip, an almost smug look on her face.
“Not that you did,” she observed. “You are very honest. I’d know if you lied.”
“I did not.”
“You should have,” she stated. Nils noted the slight smile and the beaming eyes. “But I know you didn’t.”
“Miller, I don’t understand what you –”
“Listen Nils,” she interrupted, “I got mad at you that night. In fact, I’m still pissed about it.” He knew the night she was speaking about–the night they met. He forced it out of his mind, as he relived every moment of hell since.
“Miller,” he started again. “I don’t want to relive that night. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
Why the hell did she want to bring that up?
“You’re missing the point.”
“No. I’m not. We crashed and burned that night, and I should not have tried to conduct business at the same time.”
“You’re still missing the point.”
“I don’t care about that now. I need you to reconsider going with me.”
“You mean now?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” she frowned.
“I know,” she answered, still hiding something. “But I need to be there with you.”
“Come on,” Nils said, frustrated. “You can stay at Conrad. It will only take me a couple weeks.”
“You mean you won’t.” He pressed.
“I need to be with you.” She stated. “Let’s consider it part of the favor you owe me.”
“About that,” Nils considered, knowing she was hiding far more than a simple favor. “What is this all about?”
“I’ll get to it.”
“I don’t have time–”
“Nils, please.” She spoke, eyes open as though she were making a plea. “We’ll get to that later. First, I would like to ask you–”
“Ask me what?”
“How are we getting to Hab 18?”
“We’ll need a hopper.” Nils answered before he realized she had said ‘we’.
“It’s a small rocket.” Nils smiled. “It's enough of an engine to lift the crawler to the trail-head and back.” A hopper powerful rocket burned enough for a sub-orbital hop. It enabled transport to another location on the lunar surface with the crawler. It was a means of ‘hopping’ from one location on the moon to another. For point-to-point travel, a hopper was a mainstay of lunar transportation, like sub-orbital rocket jumps had replaced airplanes for transcontinental flights after Yellowstone.
“Not all the way there?”
“Not really,” Nils shook his head. “This trip is dangerous enough. Landing near 18 would be tough.”
“I’m not a pilot,” Nils answered. “It's something about the roughness of the terrain as we get closer to the pole. The autopilot might not land us. I cannot take that risk.”