Lilia smiled at the eager look on Marty's face face as he carefully opened the newly delivered case of blasting caps. Like a child with new toys, she thought.
"Look at 'em, Lilia," the young man urged exuberantly. "Cost a bloody fortune; but I got 'em." He eased one of the devices from its foam niche and held it up for the short-haired, blonde beauty's inspection. "Electrically detonated, won't sublimate off in prolonged vac exposure, and hot enough to fire excavite without a secondary charge."
Very good, my dear," his wife replied. "But how much did they set us back? If you'll recall, we have other shopping to do while we're here."
"Two marks apiece per, I'm afraid. But they'll make up for it in improved detonations." He took another look at the gadget, then began to slide it back into its position in the shipping container. It stuck slightly, and he pulled himself over the box for better leverage. With a final push it settled into place. And exploded with a sharp crack. Marty's body spasmed, then floated limply.
Lilia stared in paralysed horror, then screamed. "Marty!"
Her eyes snapped open, staring blankly for a moment. As she brought her rapid breathing under control, she heard a sharp rap at the door. She realized what had prompted her nightmare. "A moment!" she called towards the entry. She worked an arm out of her sleep sack and found the light switch. As she struggled free of the sweat-soaked bag, the knocking repeated. She straightened her jumper and pushed to the door. Yet another set of raps began just as she opened it. "What already?" she demanded irritably.
Her visitor, a prim, neatly dressed man, blinked. "Oh, dear. Is this your night shift?" he asked in distress, clearly fearing that he'd run afoul of an out of synch work schedule. "I didn't realize... I can come back later."
Lilia smiled. Exhaustion had led her to forget her expected visitor. "No, Mr. Pappas. It is just that I don't sleep well these days. So I nap when I can. Please, come in." She moved away from the door, and waved him in.
Pappas swam through the door, a tethered briefcase floating in Juno's virtually nonexistent gravity. Inside the minuscule transient quarters, Lilia pointed him at a seat, where he strapped himself down. "I'm afraid I have rather bad news regarding my meeting with Mr. Wels," he began.
Lilia sighed. "Somehow, I am not surprised. He would not even see me. Only sent a message that Wels Munitions accepts no responsibility for mishandled ordnance." Anger flared in her eyes as she once more relived her nightmare. "Bastard. What did he say?"
"Ms. Tereshkova, he didn't." Pappas tensed as he anticipated the woman's reaction.
"Didn't what?" she asked blankly.
"Madam, he didn't even see me. He refused to discuss the issue at all."
Lilia gifted him with a dumbfounded stare. "He refused to see an Arbitrator?"
Pappas shrugged. "What can I say, Ms. Tereshkova? Rather unusual, to say the least. But it isn't as though there's a law. Voluntary arbitration's lack of an enforcement mechanism was commonly offered as an argument for authoritative government courts in the last century," he explained. "And to judge by comments from Mr. Wels associates, it would seem that he considers himself to hold an unassailable bargaining position."
Lilia exploded in a burst of multilingual curses. When she finally ran down, she sat quietly for a moment ,considering. "Very well, then. I wish it publicly posted that Wels refuses arbitration."
Pappas opened his case and pulled papers free. "Where possible, I have begun this already, Ms. Tereshkova, under my standard contract. The notice has been entered on the public bulletin board. One news service on the rock will publish an announcement in the morning." He held the papers outlining the actions to Lilia. "I am afraid that this is very much the smaller of the news agencies."
As she read over them, she wondered aloud. "And the second news service? Juno has two, correct?"
"Yes," Pappas acknowledged. "The other refused the advertisement."
Lilia stopped reading and stared across at the arbitrator. "What? Refused a posting?"
"Yes," Pappas confirmed. "In this your problem rests. Mr. Wels' company owns Juno's major air and power service. It seems that many of the residents feel they are more likely to continue breathing if they assume a neutral stance in this matter."
"That gov-begotten bureaucrat!" Lilia nearly roared. "His trash killed my Marty and he will not even apologize?"
Pappas winced. "Indeed. In fact, my brief meeting with his associate indicated that he found the very idea laughable." He shook his head. "Ms. Tereshkova, it would appear that a neutral arbitrator is not going to help at this point. I can have your bond released and returned to you by tomorrow morning..."
"No," Lilia said definitely. "I will simply have to explain the need for arbitration more carefully to Mr. Wels. I must be more insistent." She smiled grimly. "Thank you, Mr. Pappas. With luck, Wels will be contacting you soon to arrange a hearing. If you will excuse me...?"
Pappas took the prompt and made his farewells. Once the independent arbitrator had departed, Lilia made her plans. Easy enough, as they were quite basic. She stripped off her nightgown and stepped into the room's compact shower.
Half an hour later Lilia was moving down the main corridor in the Juno hab, en route to Wels combination office and residence. She ran through possible scenarios as she manipulated Velcro and handrails through the maze.
When she reached Wels Munitions, she paused before entering. She took a deep breath, then slowly released it as she drew her gun from its thigh holster. It was nearly a museum piece; an old American Colt Trooper that had belonged to her father. The smith who had modified it for space, including compensator ports, had been hesitant. But Lilia knew her father would have approved; he always had valued utility over wallhangers. After a quick check of the cylinder she returned the piece to her holster. She open the office door and moved in.
An administrative type spotted her immediately. "Yes, Ma'am, is there something I can help you with today?"
Lilia kept her face clear as she replied. "Yes, please. I would like to see Mr. Wels."
"I can check to see if Herr Wels is available. May I ask your name?" the woman asked politely.
"I am Lilia Tereshkova. He will be familiar with my business."
The clerk's eyes widened in recognition. She spoke hesitantly. "I believe Herr Wels will be... is out. But I'll check and leave a message."
Lilia offered a saccharine smile. "Tell Mr. Wels that this is his opportunity to settle the issue permanently and have me out of his hair." When the clerk hesitated, Lilia prompted her on with a little wave of her hand. "Please." The clerk disappeared through a door. Lilia forced herself to wait with at least the appearance of patience. Across the room another clerk was quoting specs to a potential buyer. Model numbers caught her ear, and she wandered closer.
"I couldn't help but overhear," Lilia spoke up brightly when she ad caught the attention of both people. "Are you discussing the Model 10A explosive caps?"
The clerk blinked and replied guardedly, "Yes, I was. They are one of our standards..."
"Oh, yes," Lilia gushed. "My husband and I purchased a batch rather recently. The basic design is very nice. Quite convenient in the field." The clerk began to relax. Lilia went on. "And the mix is quite potent. Reliable detonation of most mining compounds without an intermediary charge at all." She smiled again. "Yes, quite powerful. I hear that one misfire drove the initiator shell clear through that miner's skull last week." Lilia turned to the customer. "Terrible thing, that. But prematures are going to happen when the charge has that much cavitation, and non-homogeneity."
The would-be customer glanced at the clerk through narrowed eyes, then back to Lilia. "Do tell? Was that the blast at the port cargo dock?"
Another voice broke in. "Miss Tereshkova." Lilia turned to see Johan Wels, flanked by a slab of well-armed muscle whose duties obviously had little to do with sales. "Surely you aren't trying to disrupt my business? In fact, I insist that you come over here. Now!" Wels was a short, fat man with little hair left on his scalp. Sweat beaded on his flushed face, and his jowls jiggled with restrained anger.
Lilia stood fast. "Mr. Wels; how good of you to see me," she said sweetly. "Does this mean you're finally willing to enter arbitration in my husband's death?" The customer excused himself and left the office.
"That was quite unnecessary, Tereshkova." Wels glared at her. "Why do you wish to frighten away my customers?"
Lilia snorted. "I suppose it must be my altruistic nature."
"Come to the point," Wels said impatiently. "Why are you here? I've already had that... arbitrator informed that there is nothing to discuss."
"True. That is why I have come." Lilia explained. "I asked restitution. You refused. I asked for neutral arbitration; you've refused that."
"And your point is?" the fat man prompted.
"So now I come to fight."
"To fight?" Wels faced showed confusion in place the anger that was there a moment before.
"Yes. I challenge you." Lilia's hand drifted to her thigh. "I prefer guns; but the choice is yours. Perhaps you wish blades. Or we could toss Wels Munitions products at each other; that should be sufficiently lethal." She sneered at the tubby businessman.
Wels' thug gave his boss a questioning glance, and was rewarded with a slight shake. He acquiesced and stood back. Wels addressed Lilia. "A duel. Indeed. How... quaint." He shook his head in mock consternation. "Why ever should I agree to such a remarkable notion, Miss Tereshkova?"
She shrugged. "I wouldn't expect you to be familiar with the concept of justice, of course. But look upon it as a business decision. No expensive arbitration or cash settlements. No admission of liability. All quite to your advantage, Wels." Her eyes raked over him. "Unless, of course, you're simply a coward."
"Miss Tereshkova, you, are becoming very annoying. Leave. Do not return; there is nothing for you here."
"You refuse?" Her eyes narrowed, and she stared into Wels' eyes. The thug tensed and started forward. Lilia jerked abruptly and said, "Boo!" The thug started, and blushed with embarrassment. Lilia laughed jeeringly.
"Get out, Tereshkova!" Wels demanded angrily.
"Ta ta, Herr Wels," she replied as she backed to the door. "Any time you remember where you misplaced your manhood, you can come find me at the Motel 5 and a Half." She slipped out the door and moved up the corridor.
In the shop, Wels turned to his human guard dog. "Phillip, Miss Tereshkova has become tiresome. Send Paco to... explain matters to her."
"Yes, sir. But wouldn't it be a little more... circumspect to handle this... ?" His voice trailed off in the face of Wels clear displeasure.
"No. Such a precedent might cost me thousands of ounces in the long run," Wels chose to explain. "Do as I say."
Phillip stepped to the clerk's desk and keyed a number on the comm.
Lilia's mind raced as she headed away from Wels office. Suddenly she realized that she was approaching the offices of one of Juno's news services. She smiled and stepped inside. "Hello," she called into the empty room.
A young man came out from behind a rack of computers. "Hi! What can I do for you?" He smiled at the pretty blonde.
"I want to place an ad, please."
"Sure thing. A classified? That'll run ten words for a Mark for a week." The cheerful man slid a keyboard closer and prepared to type.
Lilia smiled and shook her head. "How much for a full... No; a two page spread?"
The man was taken aback. "Say what?"
"I wish a two page advertisement." Lilia grinned. "Is this a problem?"
"Well... Not if you have the cash," he decided. "Do you have the print, or are we going to work something up?" He thought for a minute. "Any artwork?"
"Text only, I think." Lilia slipped the arbitrator's papers from a pocket, and glanced over them. "Let's see... Let us start with. 'On March Thirteenth of this year, Martin Brewster was killed by the premature detonation of an explosives initiator sold by Wels Munitions. Johan Wels has refused private settlement, binding neutral arbitration..."
"Whoa!" the clerk interrupted. "What is this?"
Lilia stared into his eyes. "I wish to advise everyone that Wels Munitions is dealing in dangerously defective merchandise. Do you have a problem with this?" She challenged.
"Not exactly. But a couple of hours ago, I took another ad from an arbitrator on the same case, I think."
She smiled. "That would be Mr. Pappas."
"Yep." The young man spread his arm helplessly. "But if he's already posting Wels, why do you want to do it, too?"
v "More has happened," she told him. "And I expect more yet. The word should be spread before hand." She looked at her paper again. "Now, where was I? ... Wels has refused binding neutral arbitration, and a duel of honor."
The man's fingers locked up over the keyboard. "Urk!" He coughed. "You challenged Wels to a duel?" he asked in amazement.
"Certainly." Lilia smiled grimly. "He has murdered my love; as surely as if he held a gun to his head. And because he is..." She searched for words. "... The boss of Juno, he believes he is immune to justice. I plan to show that he is wrong."
"Freakin' A. I don't... A duel?" he asked again. "I thought I'd heard it all before. But settling a liability suit over coffee and pistols at dawn?"
"Guns, knives, fisticuffs; whatever pleases him," Lilia said agreeably. "It seems fair. He killed Marty. I ask the chance to return the favor." She shrugged. "Will you run my ad? Or do you, too, fear the wrath of Mr. Wels?"
The newsman took a deep breath and released it noisily. "Okay. I'll run it. I may have to hop a ship as soon as the paper hits the servers; but what the hey. Let's work out your wording."
Planning the ad went quickly. In a mere twenty minutes the newsman had the typesetting complete, and Lilia had handed over payment of several grams of gold. But in that time she had another brainstorm: Juno had a major Postal Web node.
Lilia knew what she wanted, but was unsure of just how to accomplish it. So she visited the Web office in person.
"Howdy, Miss," the Postal man greeted her. "I'm Jeff Lanski. Can I set you up with a mail account?" He smiled and watched her expectantly.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Lanski," she answered. "Actually, I have an account already. But I need some help with sending a letter." She reached into her pocket a removed a slip of paper.
"Well, ma'am, you can send a letter from pretty much any terminal on the rock. What seems to be the prob?" Lanski inquired helpfully.
Lilia grinned. "The 'problem' is the addressing, Mr. Lanski..."
"Aw, heck. Just call me Jeff. And you are?" he prompted.
"Glad to meetcha, Lilia. So you're havin' a prob with addressing? Who're you tryin' to send it to?"
She laughed softly. "Yes."
"Eh?" He looked at her blankly.
"I wish to send a general announcement. To everyone." She waited for his response.
He eyed her uneasily. "Uhh... everyone who? You have a list?" The Postal Web made a point of staying neutral on spam originating from legitimate accounts, but avoided other direct involvement.
"Not yet," she admitted. "But I hope you can help me with that. I want to send my announcement to every Postal Web customer. All of them. Private and commercial." She let her grin widen.
"You're kidding... Aren't you?" Lanski seemed doubtful, to say the least. "I don't even know..." His voice trailed off. He frowned. "Yeah..." he said slowly. "I could post it as a system announcement. But the boss back at Ceres'll go nuts. That's not for private message traffic." He shook his head. "And the spam complaints..."
Lilia smiled mischievously. "Not spam. Public service announcement. Maybe you give discounts for that?"
"Damn. I don't know," Lanski confided. "A PSA? Let's see what you've got there."
Her grin became downright impish as she handed across a slip of paper. She'd neglected to transfer the ad text to her PDA. It held the basic text of her newspaper advertisement. "This is how it should read." She cackled.
Lanski read, and his eyes bugged a trifle. "Holy shi... Are you sure you wanna do this?" he asked. He considered the ramifications and shivered.
"Oh, yes," Lilia confirmed. "Those words exactly. How long will it take? And how much?"
"I don't even know how many subscribers we have..." He stepped over to a terminal and typed. He watched the screen, and continued the electronic dialogue for a moment. "Okay. I'll take the chance. Rosenblum claims to favor initiative; I'll test it. I figger we got two thousand subscribers right now. For sysadmin notice privileges, I'll hit hit you up for a quarter Mark per head. Five hundred Marks, payable in advance, and you got your spam... um, PSA," he corrected at the end.
Lilia checked her local account balance over the wiffi public net. She had adequate funds. And with the expected return of her arbitration bond... "Yes, let us do it."
He thought. "Gimme five minutes to type it in. It'll hit the main servers in... Hmm... light lag's around..." He looked back to Lilia. "It'll hit the servers in about an hour. After that, it's whenever people check their mail. But I figger in about 24 hours Herr Wels' is gonna be after ya with blood in his eye."
Lilia smirked. "I suspect that in 24 hours Herr Wels will be a moot point." She looked to her wiffi pad again. "If you'll give me your account number, I'll make the transfer. Shall we?"
With the Solar System-wide destruction of Wels' reputation arranged, Lilia headed back to her transient quarters. She did stop briefly at the Chamber of Commerce for a habitat map. She spent a bit of time examining the map and planning the next phase of her operation. She was pleased to note that Wels had conveniently located his offices in a dedicated dome at the end of a corridor. For the sake of privacy, perhaps. Whatever the reason, it suited her purposes very well. She checked the time and decided to go get dinner. She smoothed her hair, checked her sidearm, and opened the door.
As barrier swung open, a large figured shouldered it aside pushed into her room. The unfamiliar, dark complected man kicked the door closed, and used the recoil to slam her against the far wall.. He drew a knife. "Okay, pretty lady. Let's do it quick and painless like." He stepped closer to the stunned woman.
Suddenly Lilia uncurled. "I don't think so," she said flatly, revealing her drawn revolver. The assailant's eyes barely had time to widen in surprise before she center-punched him with a magnum double-tap. The blasts were deafening in the confines of the tiny room.
Lilia's ears felt as they'd been packed with cotton. She yawned widely, and waited for her ears to stop ringing. Her attacker's blade had drifted to the floor by his still, bloody form. She nudged it away with one foot, assured herself that the assailant had been rendered permanently harmless. Then she called room service for clean up.
"Slag, Constable," Lilia complained. "I don't know who he was." Lilia had spent a good hour explaining the dead body to the company town cop. She decided cops in general were just naturally slow. "I opened the door, he pushed in, pulled a knife. I suppose he was a rapist or robber. What was I supposed to do? Cooperate like a good little citizen?" .
v "Well, Ms. Tereshkova," the cop objected, "you could have called for help and let me handle it."
v "Scheisse," was her blunt rejoinder. "It took you fifteen minutes to get here after the desk clerk called. What would you have me do in the interim? Relax, and enjoy the inevitable rape?" She stared him down with outraged disbelief.
"As may be," the lawman went on obliviously, "I'll have to take your gun while I investigate this incident."
Lilia snorted derision. The watching desk clerk spoke. "That oughta be interesting to see, Clyde." He laughed at the constable. "How much of you do you think there'll be left after you try disarming her?" He shook his head. "Forget it, Clyde. Pure self defense. The lady is right. Why don't you just run home?"
The cop sputtered. "But... We have to investigate. There's..."
"Oh shut up, Clyde. And get outa here." The clerk turned back to Lilia. "You'll have to excuse Clyde. He used to be a policeman back in Dubya's Amerika, and still hasn't gotten used to the real world." Back to the constable. "Bye bye, Clyde." He urged the cop out of the room.
"Thanks," Lilia told him. "I'm sorry to be stirring things up in your hotel."
"Not your fault." The clerk began following the cop out, but paused at her door. "Something Clyde didn't see fit to tell you, though." Lilia looked inquisitive. He went on. "The stiff? He worked for Johan Wels. Just thought you oughta know. Heard you've had a disagreement with the man." He left hurriedly.
Lilia nodded to herself absently. "So... Very well, then." Dinner would have to wait. She moved to the minimal closet and retrieved her bundled pressure suit. "To work, Lilia," she told herself. "You have much to do." She headed out.
Early the next morning Lilia called on Pappas at his office. "Good morning,"she greeted him.
"Good morning, Ms. Tereshkova." He watched her across his desk. "I hear you had just a bit of excitement last night."
Lilia started. Then, "Ah, the shooting. Yes, a sad world in which such things are necessary." She examined her fingernails and added idly, "I'm told the mugger was in the employ of Johan Wels."
Pappas nodded quietly. "Yes, Enrico 'Paco' Dominguez. Essentially an enforcer. Herr Wels is an unpleasant man, who employees other such. Yet, Paco was a rather... inexperienced sort. There are worse such out there." He cleared his throat. "So. Does this mean you wish to end your suit? I have your bond ready to return..."
"Oh, no, Mr. Pappas. Whatever gave you that idea?" Lilia asked with faux innocence. "In fact, I wish you to call Wels' office and invite him to join us again."
Pappas jerked in surprise. "To join us? In what, might I ask?"
"I wish an arbitration hearing this morning. If your calendar is clear, of course. I understand that it will have to be nonbinding, naturally; since it seems unlikely that Wels will participate. But I wish to meet all the proper forms." She smiled.
Pappas pursed his lips. "Well... I am free all day. The judging business is slow around here. When would you like to start?"
"Let's make it 1100," Lilia decided. "I can have my witness in by then. And it gives Wels a chance to turn me down. As I said, the forms must be met." She smiled again. Pappas shivered, unsure why, except that Lilia had not struck him as a happy woman in these past few days.
"Very well," he said. "I will call his office with notice of the hearing. Till 1100 then, Ms. Tereshkova."
"Till then, Mr. Pappas." Lilia stood and moved to the door. "And thank you."
The hearing was short and to the point. With Wels noticeably absent, and none other willing to speak for him, the one sided testimony moved quickly. Lilia herself, at first stonefaced, described the events surrounding Marty's death. Her tears were flowing by the time she finished. An impassive Pappas took notes on his PDA without comment.
Next, Lilia called her only other 'witness.' "Joseph Wyndham, please step forward," Lilia called. A cheerful seeming, sandy haired man came up to Pappas' desk and took a seat.
Pappas looked at him and frowned slightly. "You are?" Juno's population was growing to the point where all the inhabitants no longer knew one another.
Lilia addressed Pappas. "Mr. Wyndham is an independent mining consultant and chemical engineer. After Marty's incident, I turned the blasting caps over to him for testing."
Pappas nodded in understanding. "I see, then. You were to determine if the equipment met spec?" A logical assumption.
"Yep," Wyndham confirmed.
"And did it?" Pappas wondered.
"Not bleedin' likely, Mr. Pappas." Wyndham grimaced. "Lilia gave me a box of 99 initiators. I randomly pulled ten for testing. Nine of them proved to have extreme cavitation in a very nonhomogenous composition, and loose pyrotechnic components besides. Hazardous in the extreme."
"And the tenth initiator?" Pappas prompted.
"Well, I can't rightly say if it was cavitated or not." He frowned again, and glanced down at his hands, which the arbitrator only now realized were bandaged.
"Why not, Mr. Wyndham?" Pappas asked, thinking he might guess the answer anyway.
The explosives expert held up a heavily bandaged hand, still seeping plasma. It appeared to be missing a finger or two. "Mainly because the bloody thing detonated as I was removing it from the damned box. Blew my goddamn finger clean off, even with my gauntlets." He compressed his lips thinly. "As you might expect, that kinda pisses me off." He sighed loudly. "Anyway, my professional opinion based on experience with the caps in question is that they were all defective. Frankly, I expect that Wels knew it when his outfit sold them."
Pappas blinked at the apparently unsupported supposition. "And on what do you base that claim?"
"Common sense, Mr. Pappas. The damn caps showed probs that had to come from production flaws in at least three different processes; kinda hard to miss, if you have a QA program at all. And the Wels 10As have been on the market for a few months now." Suddenly the engineer looked embarrassed, and Pappas raised his eyebrows questioningly. Wyndham pushed on. "To tell the truth, I'd heard some rumors before, but couldn't believe that pyro devices as bad as people were claiming wouldn't have been pulled off the market.' He shrugged, and winced as the move jarred his injured hands. "Guess now I know better."
"I see." The arbitrator thought. "This seems rather straight forward, Mr. Wyndham. Unless Ms. Tereshkova has anything else, I think I've heard what I need from you." He looked inquiringly to Lilia.
She shook her head. "No, sir. I have nothing else at all. I think that says everything."
Wyndham got up and headed to the door. "That'll do it for me then. Give me a shout if anything else comes up." he shook his head. "I'm in need of an aspirin and a drink." Lilia and Pappas both rendered thanks and farewells. Wyndham departed the room, leaving the miner and arbitrator alone.
Pappas reviewed his notes, adding an occasional entry. Lilia sat patiently. Finally, he spoke again. "Ms. Tereshkova, lacking any defense whatsoever from Wels Munitions, I can only find in your favor. Now, remember this is nonbinding arbitration since Wels elected to not participate." He took a deep breath. "I rule that Wels Munitions did sell dangerously defective explosive ordnance, and that the incident that took the life of Martin Brewster was in no way the fault of Brewster or Tereshkova. The liability lies with Johan Wels as the owner of Wels Munitions.
"Further, Wels owes Lilia Tereshkova, Brewster's next of kin, two hundred thousand Marks as restitution. Said money to be paid immediately, unless deemed other wise by Lilia Tereshkova.
"Wels also owes Tereshkova and Brewster a public apology, and must notify all purchasers of the defective initiators of the hazard. I so rule." Pappas shook his head. "That done, Ms. Tereshkova, I'm sorry. In plain fact, this was a waste of your money. Wels will simply ignore the ruling." Then he grinned. "But your Postal Web notice may do some good. I got it this morning when I checked my mail. Well thought, Ms. Tereshkova. I believe I will include that in all future postings of rulings."
Lilia nodded. "At least it will warn other buyers of the hazard. And just maybe folks will be hesitant to do business with Wels Munitions after this." She sighed and wiped away a tear. "You can give me a copy of the ruling?"
"For what it is worth, certainly. And I'll post it." Pappas rapped at his keyboard. After a few minutes his printer extruded paper. He collected the sheets and handed them to Lilia. "Here's hardcopy." He offered a wiffi transfer of the electronic source document, which Lilia accepted on her pad. " I'm sorry I can do no more."
Lilia folded the sheets and tucked them into a pocket of her business jumper, then clasped Pappas' hand. "You've done enough. The rest is up to me. Thank you and take care. I must go now." She smiled a last time and hurriedly left the arbitrator's office.
"What is she up to?" he wondered in her wake.
She headed straight down the corridor leading to Wels office. Just before she reached the dome proper, she passed through a pressure door. She closed it and dogged it down to prevent anyone else from coming through. Next, she pulled a hand-lettered placard from a pocket and stuck it in the door's window. Pressure Breach. Do Not Enter, it read. She moved on to the dome to Wels office.
Lilia steeled herself and pushed the door open. She looked around the public offices of Wels Munitions, then stepped inside. She approached the clerk from the day before. "Get Wels. Now," she directed.
"Herr Wels is not available to you, ma'am," the clerk began.
Lilia cut him off. "Make him available. Pretend your life depends on it. Because it does." She stared into the man's eyes. Whatever he saw there caused him to pale. He abruptly excused himself and left the room. Lilia waited, watching the door intently. When it opened again, it revealed Wels' companion.
"What do you want, Tereshkova?" He demanded. "You're pissing off my boss."
"Do yourself a favor," Lilia replied. "Go get Wels, then get yourself out of this dome."
The thug sighed resignation and began to reach into his jacket. "Lady, I don't think you realize just how irritated Wels is with you..."
Lilia held up a hand. "Of course I do. But I don't think Wels appreciates my position. Nor his own. But he will." She unclenched her hand and showed the thug a small transmitter. "Would you care to guess how many kilos of excavite are depending upon me me holding this button in in order to continue their inert existence?" She said it matter-of-factly, with a totally blank face.
The enforcer's eyes widened, and his face paled. "Hey, now..." he placated.
She smiled brief satisfaction. "Do please get Wels. I believe I have a sudden appointment." She waggled the transmitter and the errand boy faded.
He returned almost immediately with Wels. "What is this absurd report, you stupid cu..." the florid Wels began angrily.
"Ah, ah, ah... That's a naughty boy, Wels," Lilia corrected. "The correct phrase is 'Yes, Ms. Tereshkova. What can I do for you so you won't blow my dome to hellandgone .'" She turned to the thug. "Get on the phone. Clear the entire dome. Forget files, personal possessions, whatever. Everyone has ten minutes to get out and to public pressure. After that, they risk breathing vacuum."
Fear plain on his face, he moved to comply. Wels called out, "Phillip, you idiot. Stop. You'll do no such thing." He sneered at the woman. "She's bluffing. She is here. Why would she blow her own atmosphere?"
Lilia stared at Wels. "Phillip, start calling. Then get yourself out. Herr Wels forgets that he killed off my main reason for living. I have nothing left to lose that matters greatly." She glanced towards the thug. "Move!" she commanded.
Wels seemed to be wondering if she was serious. "You would blow the dome? Risk all those innocent lives?"
Lilia turned dead eyes on the businessman. "Schmidt principle," she said flatly. Wels looked confused, and she elaborated. "Innocent lives? Who all was involved in making, selling the bad initiators? I watched one of your salesmen try to sell more of them yesterday." Fire flashed briefly in her eyes. "And someone tried to sell me a coffin last night. Fortunately, I wasn't in the market." She smiled, and Wels didn't like it. "But I'll tell you what... I won't blow your dome. If." She left it hanging.
"If what?" Wels asked. In the background he heard Philip ordering the dome cleared.
"You have two options to decompression." Lilia handed him the arbitrator's hardcopied decision. "Even though you didn't bother to come, we held an arbitration hearing. You can follow the man's instructions."
"Nonsense! I'll not toady to some wannabe judge's ridiculous..."
"Good." Lilia's smile was tinged with insanity. "I rather hoped that would your choice. The other option is the duel." Her eyes took on a maniacal gleam. "I am so looking forward to killing you."
Wels spat, and issued a command to his henchman, who had finished his comm calls. "Phillip, take care of this..." He broke off. Somehow, Lilia's odd, old fashioned weapon was in her hand, and in his man's face. Phillip's eyes crossed as he focused on the muzzle gently touching the bridge of his nose.
Lilia asked, "Is the dome clear yet?"
Phillip nodded carefully.
"Good. Get out." Phillip began moving slowly to the door. Lilia gave her attention to Wels again. "I think we have a duel to fight."
Sweat poured off the fat man. "Phillip, get back here! What do I pay you for? Kill this... this..."
"You know, Herr Wels," came Phillip's reply, "I don't think so. The lady's demands were always pretty reasonable. You could even have made yourself out as a regular philanthropist, out to do right by the lady. Woulda been great publicity." He laughed and opened the door. "Hope you shoot better than you run a business."
"But I'm unarmed!" Wels screamed. In panic, he pleaded with Lilia. "You can't do this. I don't... You can't shoot me if I don't..." he stammered.
From the door Philip spoke again. "Hey, Wels; catch!" He tossed something to the fat man.
Wels caught the object clumsily, and peered at it.
Lilia grinned at Philip's heavy autopistol in Wels' hands. "Looks to me like you are armed now. Shall we begin? Or should I just pop the dome and be done with it all?"
"No!" Wels shrieked shrilly. "Are you insane? You can't expect me to..."
"If I'm insane, who made me that way, you bastard?" Lilia pushed backwards several paces. She slipped the Trooper back into its holster, but kept her hand hovering at the grip.
Wels watched this with horrified dismay. he began fumbling with the unfamiliar handgun. Where was the safety? These things always had safeties, didn't they? In his panic, he felt the gun slip from his pudgy fingers, slick with sweat. Frozen, he stared as it floated to the floor. Then he screamed, "I'll pay! I'll comply with the freaking order!"
"Well." Lilia relaxed her hand, and tried to sort disappointment from elation. "How enlightened of you. Very good. I guess you get to live after all."
Wels was in tears. "Wha... wha... wha... What do I do?" he stuttered fearfully.
"Start by reading the order. You can deposit the marks to my local account. So far as the general notification... best you speak to the Postal Web people about that. You might even get a volume discount, if you ask nicely."
"Notification?" Wels blubbered confusion through his tears.
"Oh, yes. You're going to be very busy for a while," Lilia guessed. "I'd better get out of your way so you can get to work." She smirked. "Here. Take this."
"Huh? What?" Wels looked confused as Lilia pried his hand open and put the detonator remote in it. She carefully slipped his thumb over the button as she slid her own off.
"There you go, Herr Wels. Now don't let that button loose until the explosives have been removed." Then in mock concern she added. "And you might want to do that rather quickly. I took the liberty of using this little situation to return my initiators for a refund."
"Those mining charges on your dome? I used the Model 10s we bought from you. Had to be real damned careful. A couple even went off." She looked worried. Then grinned again. "I guess there's no telling when those charges might go off spontaneously. Well, I'll be seeing you. Ta ta," she added brightly, then hurriedly left the offices.
Wels realized he was crying again, and decided he didn't care. Then he also realized that sometime during the last few minutes he had wet his own pants. He couldn't make himself care about that either. He stared at the device in his hand, then settled his other thumb atop the first, just to be sure. His knees gave way, and he settled to the floor, next to Philip's forgotten sidearm
Lilia moved down the corridor to the port offices. Her ship should be ready to go. She had moved Marty's body aboard last night. She was lost in sad thoughts about the years to come when a voice cut through her reverie. "Ms. Tereshkova?"
She looked up and saw Mr. Pappas. She smiled. "Hello."
"I came to see you off. To say good bye," Pappas explained. "I hope you won't think poorly of all Juno for what has happened here."
She shook her head. "No. But I don't imagine it will ever be a happy place for me."
"Where do you go now?" Pappas asked.
"First, to Earth." She smiled sadly. "Once, Marty said that when he died he wanted his body dumped in the atmosphere. Like a meteor; to scatter his ashes on Earth." She remembered something, and her smile lightened a little. "Mostly, he wanted his ashes sprinkled over a nudist colony. I'll see what I can do." She shrugged. After that? Who knows?" She started moving again, and Pappas followed.
"I wanted to ask you something else," he said. "The bombs on Wels' dome..."
Suddenly Lilia grinned. "Yes?"
The arbitrator looked at her oddly. "They never found any."
"I'd have been rather surprised if they did." She winked.
"I lied." With a sigh, she added, "Maybe they did all share some degree of guilt, but it wasn't in me to kill so many for even Marty." She essayed a small smile. "If it makes you feel better, call it a bluff." She shrugged. "But lie or bluff, I wasn't cheating anyone. I just had to do it to get... I guess it was as close to justice as I could manage.
Pappas looked confused. "But the defective explosives? And you were seen going through the lock the night of the shooting..."
"Certainly," the woman conceded. "I had to get rid of of the bum explosives. They were a hazard." A look of chagrin settled on Lilia's face. "And in part... I really did consider mining his dome. But then I decided it would be better to make him live. With his business destroyed. With his employees knowing he's a coward and a cheat. To live with his very pride is gone; washed away in tears and piss." She smiled. "That's almost enough for him killing my Marty."
They reached the port lock. Lilia locked her helmet down. "Goodbye, Mr. Pappas." She closed the visor and entered the lock.
Pappas watched her go. The man in him was sorry to see a beautiful woman so saddened. The arbitrator in him considered precedents.
For those interested, this is the correct story sequence of tales in the Net Assets universe, as published so far:
Did you like this article?