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Picking Flowers

A missing person’s case was new for me. Mostly it’s straightforward deaths. I mean, they might have been missing before they died, but I usually only got involved at the end of that perilous chase. Since they’re already dead, there isn’t much urgency, other than in identifying yet another dangerous plant, animal or microbial vector that has sprung up. The suits are good, as are the scanners, but it’s impossible to filter out everything that people track back into the compound. Ah, Relgex VI, planet of the future. I really like it here, but then xenobiology was always fascinating, and there are only a few places you can hope to visit which have such a wide array of rapidly evolving life. It’s rather exciting, though it is perhaps a shame how many of their adaptations are lethal to a baseline human. The rest of the industrial colony are mostly boosted with additional autobiomes that correct and hunt down the more mundanely murderous things that get into their systems. The trick is that such solutions do just spur the damned things on to get more and more deadly. Unless we find some miracle cure I estimate that Relgex VI will be completely unoccupiable within a decade. That would be disappointing – and not only for my research and general enjoyment – Relgex VI is inevitably one of the few places with seriously vast deposits of brimeon, the most important element in constructing faster than light portals. It’s almost as if the biology here were trying to protect it…

Anyway, someone’s missing. “Presumed dead,” because that’s how this world rolls. One Daymen Herrenak, forty-three, male, miner. Oh, tall too, that kind of height which makes someone seem attractive because their face is too far away to read their expression properly. The photo gave him a grim cast, though if it was taken after arrival that would account for it. The danger pay is wild and draws in a lot of very serious people, but they don’t all get to leave with that cash. First noticed to be missing on the return shuttle from the Andus mine, but definitely checked in at the mine, kept telemetry running while at work and all that. So must have gone AWOL somewhere between the end of shift and getting on the shuttle. That’s a decent window of around thirty minutes for Relgex to have struck once more. Having never done a disappearance before, I took the opportunity to have a rifle through his quarters, in case some more tedious cause than plant-murder presented itself.

We all get a cube, three and a half meters on a side. They’re stacked up like kids’ bricks in the compound, within earshot of the flame throwers and electro-pulse defences that flare all night and day to keep the locals at bay. Mine’s way out on the other side of the residential block, along with most of the residential staff. The miners get these slightly crappier and endlessly reused cubes to stay in. Not a lot to see, though I hadn’t expected much. I was hoping for a stash of banned pharma or booze, but he didn’t have anything beyond a case of clothes, tablet and a “don’t fucking touch” guide to the most immediately murderous of Relgex VI’s plant and animal life. My heart nearly stopped when I spotted the vase of flowers on the window sill. I scrabbled frantically for the mask, goggles and gloves strapped to my belt. I hadn’t thought to wear them inside the compound, like an idiot. Still, not as much of an idiot as someone who managed to smuggle death’s irises back through the scanners. Sure, awfully pretty with its show-off purple petals. It’s a shame they bite and exude a neurotoxin that makes your nerves roll up and strangle your organs. I approached cautiously, but to my immense relief this thing was very dead. It appeared to have been freeze-dried and had a thin laminate coat. The first stopped it biting, and the second would have concealed it from the scanners.

What a moron. That was my overriding thought as I hopped on the mining shuttle headed out to the Andus mine. I already had a good idea what had happened to Daymen. Now that I’d seen he was fool enough to stop and smell the flowers, he’d most likely done that again and sniffed something even more brutal than a death’s iris. It’s funny actually, those iris-analogues (because obviously it’s not an iris, or even biologically that similar to an Earth iris) were one of the most abundant plants when people first arrived here, and made them feel right at home. Remember: humans are not bright. We run on algorithms that process the world according to familiarity and moderate our emotions and sense of danger on that basis. Honestly, it’s fuck-all use on Relgex VI, as my blundering around in Daymen’s cube reminded me. Now, I was togged right up. The second-skin is a barely impregnable layer which makes you sweat like a bastard if you don’t also have the next two layers of cooling and protective clothing on top. It’s essentially a space suit which you could take underwater. Multiple filters and redundancies scrubbing the microscopic stuff out of the air too. I felt about as safe as you can here when I finished off with a series of shots for the latest and greatest mutant strains. Daymen’s fellow miners were a cheery bunch, deeply focused on mining as much cash out of the job as they could and going home alive. Daymen had fit in well, not too much of a weirdo, though he did spend a lot of time gazing out of the shuttle window instead of playing cards. I really hoped those cards stayed on the shuttle. The shuttle’s a clean space in theory, but lacks the depth of filtration and scanning that the compound provides, and these folks were playing with them with naked or at least only second-skin hands. Safety always wears thin when you’re exposed daily.

Andus mine is the fourth A-rated mine, that’s “A for An awful lot of brimeon.” These were the mines we were trying to empty as rapidly as possible before the biology overwhelms us. After that there are still B and C mining opportunities, but it’s the six A mines that are the priority. We’re hammering them all pretty hard, and that takes a lot of manpower to run the machines and occasionally descend into the mines in person when those machines break down. Brimeon is amazing, not only is it “slick” to protons, which is something to do with the FTL portals, but it has an immediate and direct effect on life. It’s a little like radiation, except it doesn’t harm, it strengthens. The miners who get closest to it see improved telomere resilience and a much better than expected duplication of DNA. Basically, we’re error-prone meat machines which are falling apart from the moment we’re born, and brimeon seems to fix that. Shame we’re sticking most of it in space really.

The conical towers of Andus are visible before we get near it, and the shuttle takes a cautious circular route around the mine before landing. Just in case everything’s gone horribly wrong and it’s been overrun by vorpaths or something (not good, not good at all – Auric mine got overrun once and it took three months to kill everything on site, and to replace every single one of the miners). All clear for landing and down we go. More filters and scanners bombard the passengers as we enter the mining complex, and already the deep grinding bass rumbles from a mile below are audible through my bones. I don’t need to go into the mine itself, I’m fairly confident Daymen met his end outside, so I beg, borrow and steal a couple of the security guards to come with me outside.

There are very limited opportunities to wander off and pick some flowers. The shuttle pick-up is only twenty-five meters from the complex, but if Daymen liked death irises, there was an excellent chance that they’d be growing in the shade of the shuttles’ exhaust. They absolutely love that stuff – this is the problem with this adaptive biome, what we think should be poison is like mothers’ milk. The security guards hang back as far as they possibly can while technically accompanying me. I’m not worried about distance, what I want is for them to annihilate anything that comes for us while I’m gazing at the ground. It’s not long before they’re keeping up a constant barrage of electric pulses and worse. There are indeed some young Death Irises where the shuttles land – the security guards scorch that patch of earth bare and fry it to a foot below the surface. I get my proper detective “aha” moment when I spot the footprints in the mud leading off away from the shuttle: no one goes off-site, no one. Thus, Daymen. Either I’m really good at this, or there was no mystery at all and this was an easy case.

I lead my little team further out. They’re all super-twitchy and nervous, but there’s no way Daymen could have gotten far. And I’m right. The trail of footsteps stops abruptly. If I were a tracker I reckon I’d make out a half-step, then some pattern that indicated one leg had been pulled out from under him, and then he’d been bodily dragged sideways. I’m no tracker, nor am I psychic, but I do not what a severed human leg covered in mile leeches looks like (yep, they’re really long leeches, so it was probably just one leech, actually). That acted like an arrow, pointing at the tree-analogue to our left. “Found him,” I called out, wholly unnecessarily. Daymen had been caught by a banjax tree. Very nasty things, they specialise in tripping things with their roots, then grabbing them and pulling them slowly apart. If it weren’t for the sound of the shuttles and the mine, someone would have heard Daymen screaming. I could imagine it now as we gazed up at him, stretched vertically up the ten meter trunk of the banjax tree.

OK, so my first detective mystery was pretty easy to solve, and it was just one more death by misadventure to add to Relgex VI’s body count. We torched the tree, the mile leech and everything else between us and the mining site before heading back. I get to file a report and everything. After noting the smuggled iris in his quarters, Daymen’s death benefits got slashed by three quarters, which sucks for anyone he left behind. His little potted plant and everything in his cube get thrown in the incinerator for good measure. One more chapter for the “don’t fucking touch” guide, I guess.

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Picking Flowers

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