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Group Effort - Working Story Thread

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In an effort to keep the story cleaner for those wanting to add without searching through the side notes this thread is for the story only.. I have copied the story beginning here (I hope I didn't miss a part) to accomplish that. If you want to talk about it or have questions suggestions see the Group Effort thread for side notes and posts..



Story start


I was able to get rid of the rude landlord who’s trying to evict me if I don’t pay my rent by promising I’d have the money by the end of the week. But I only have thirty credits to my name, enough to by a sandwich. Not the three hundred and fifty I need to pay the rent.


This place isn’t that big, it’s a one-room cutout in the side of a tunnel wall under the main dome. It did come with a desk that doubles as my dining table next to the couch that also doubles as my bed in a living area that triples as a kitchen and restroom. Air and water are pumped everywhere for free and power is available for a fee of course. And all I’ve got other than the cloths on my back and large over coat is some high tech equipment for work.


I should go back to Earth, but you need money to pay for the trip and that would take thirty thousand credits. And there’s the rub, I haven’t been able to get any work since moving to Mars one hundred and eighty sols ago. You can’t go outside without a pressure suit and if you did, you can’t get to another doom unless you can hire a transport. No one wants to hire a private investigator because where can you go?


I don't have any training in anything but security, leaving me with no job prospects because security is run by the Martian government. Wish I would’ve researched that little piece of information before I got here. And they aren’t very happy with me because of the misunderstanding we had about ninety sols ago.


I might be able to go into the underground communities or the tunnels with the rest of the homeless and stranded. That means selling my equipment though, if only I could get enough from all of it for the trip to Earth it'd be worth it. But it'll buy some food. And because most of it comes from Earth on supply shuttles, it isn’t cheap.


As I sit behind the desk trying to figure out what I’m going to do while toying with the ID badge Mars security gave me when I first arrived, there’s a knock on the door. Hoping it’s not the landlord coming back because he changed his mind, I open the door cautiously. On the other side is a caucasian woman, medium length brunet hair, about five foot six, one hundred thirty pounds and outright gorgeous.


“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Are you Richard P Marlow?” She asks me as she try's to look around me into the room.

“Who’s asking?”

“You can call me Penny, Penny Blossom.”

“What do you want with this Marlow Ms. Blossom?”

“I need your help Mr. Marlow. I need you to find someone for me.”

“I’m not your man.”

“Mr. Marlow, it’s very important to me. I have to find him so he can help the master.”

“Why don’t you go to Mars security, they run the security on this planet. They can find your man.”

“They won’t help me Mr. Marlow, they think I’m nuts.”

“Well what makes you think that I don’t think you nuts or I’m Mr. Marlow?”

“Because I’m not nuts and I can see your ID badge on the desk.”


Of all the bad luck, I left my badge out in the open and she saw it.


“I can pay you quite well. I’ll give you a deposit, say twenty five thousand credits up front and another twenty five when you find him.”


Fifty thousand credits, that’s a lot of cheese to find a guy on a planet where there’s no place to hide. But if I can find this guy easy enough I‘ll have enough to get off this God forsaken rock and back to Earth to start over. Maybe I should see if I know this guy.


“If I were interested, what’s this guy’s name?”

“John Stone, his name is John Stone. But he's known as John the Baptist.”




Added by EClayRowe


""Forty days and forty nights. Real chicken in my soba! Breakfast of Champions! Hot chai,milk-(ish)!  And on someone else's thumb! I negotiated an expense rider to the Veronica's contract. Better than butter!


She did play hardball, though, on the timetable." Forty days and forty nights."  Kind of Dirt-ball, if you ask me. Forty hits of Circa-Vent, again on the Veronica's thumb, I'll sleep when I'm dead for a few extra days to find this jamoke.


The bots popped into my Head-Space account before I finished the dregs of my grassy beverage. One-hundred forty-seven "John Stones" or variations on Mars. A French Foreign Legionnaire using the name "Jean-Pierre Baptiste" looked promising; joining the Legion was a well-known path to building a new identity. Haberdashery bill::Camel-hair sport coat, Gucci belt, tan slacks. Maybe I could charge a new Panama to replace my Lemmonyella snap-brim.


Imported Dirt-ball clothes. Ten years military service for a new name. Then a cold trail. Forty days of HeadSpace Plus, the no-ad version. I was going to enjoy this.


The Wilderness Grill was my favorite real space. Belters drop in from the Elevator to make deals. Ice-miners come up from the Pits to blow off steam. Tunnel Rat pan-handlers work the crowd. It smells like stale beer, rancid sweat, burnt tofu, and desperation.


"Marlowe, you old horse-lover! Got any specie?"


I had a fanny pack of plastic chips in several different denominations, the closest thing to cold, hard cash you could find on Mars


The best thing about it was the coating of nanocytes that ate any trace of human handling after you let it go.


I flashed my ID at her to make it a chargeable interview Clarissa knew the drill.




"My business, not your's, babe." I thumbed her vaper to pay for another hit.


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With all the riff raff floating through here it's a good place to start looking. Besides, if this guy is hiding the foreign legion is definitely not the first place I'd go.


“See any new faces come through here recently Clarissa?”

“There have been a few from down below. Looking for anybody in particular hon?”

I gave her the description Penny Blossom provided. “Male, about forty, five foot seven, light complexion, medium length brown hair. Medium build and lightly calloused hands from working in fabrication.”

“That describes a lot of the people that come through hon. Anything special about this guy?”

“He likes to talk about some conversion, but I don’t know anything more about that right now.”

“Umm, anything else that might jog my memory?”

Clarissa doesn’t miss a beat. “Maybe this’ll help.” I say as I slip her a few extra chips.


“There was a guy about two weeks ago fitting your description, came in and started talking about somebody coming to help all the people here. A few listened, but most just said he was crazy.”

“Where was he staying?”

“He came went with some of the people from below. He hasn’t been here for about a week though.”

“Where’d he go?”

“Got me, you know I don’t talk to anyone but the regulars here?”

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Hey, Z, is this the whole story so far?  Sorry, it sounded like there were more parts elsewhere.  Before I kick in, I figured I'd better make sure everything that's going on.

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On 2/9/2018 at 8:39 AM, suspensewriter said:

Hey, Z, is this the whole story so far?  Sorry, it sounded like there were more parts elsewhere.  Before I kick in, I figured I'd better make sure everything that's going on.

Yes, this is it. The comments are supposed to be on the other thread, group effort, and this one is just for the story so we don't have all the comments separating the contributions which would make it difficult to read through so the next person would know where it's at. 

Edited by zx1ninja

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20 hours was a long time to walk, but the sooner I found this John Stone the sooner I’d be on my ride back home. 

Tunnel 63, Main Dome, was up ahead.  The last vagabond I’d questioned had thought someone here would be able to direct me to my man.

Just like the guy I’d questioned before him…and the one before that…and the one before that….

I’d learnt after the first bundle-of-rags I’d asked.  Don’t pay until they give you something to work with.  I learnt after the third to not give an indication of how much cash I had on me.  Not that it’d helped.  The last had held out his hand, reddened with the dust of this place, before even looking me in the eye. 

Stepping into 63, I inhaled a little sharply and nearly gagged.  A monitor in the wall on my right glowed faintly in the dim light, an information-access point for the Martian Security.  Beyond that I could vaguely make out bundles standing or leaning against the walls of what was supposed to be a travelling tunnel only.  No homes. 

A bundle close to me shifted, and I detected eyes before I realized that it was a person.  I stepped towards him.

“I’m looking for a man.”  He slowly looked me over and turned away.

“Those services aren’t available here.”

“He’s about five-foot-seven, light complexion, medium-length brown hair.”

“Is that so?”  The man gave an exaggerated yawn, scratching at the grimy knitted hat on his head.  He was wearing at least two shirts, from what holes and random colors I could see.  I gritted my teeth, refusing to play the game he wanted me to. 

“You talk, then I pay.”

“Why don’t you go to hell?  Maybe you’d find him there.”  He shifted his attention back to me and held out his hand, dirty eyebrow raised.  I shook my head slowly, and he looked away.

“Suit yourself, pretty boy.”  Cursing under my breath, I dug a chip from my pocket and dropped at his mismatched boots. 

“Anything else special about him?” the man asked, snatching the chip up and hiding it.

“His name is John Stone.” 

“Never heard of him.”

“Maybe this will help,” I snapped, dropping another chip at his feet.  He ignored it.

“No, it won’t,” he stated, gathering his rags about him and rising to look me in the eye.  “Drop it, ok?  He doesn’t exist.”  I held his gaze as an indistinct echo reached us.  He broke off first, looking up the tunnel.  The echo came again, louder and more clear.

“Rats!”  The result was immediate.  Every other bundle in the dim light dove for the walls, disappearing.  The man before me whispered the same word harshly down the tunnel, before diving for a hole I hadn’t seen before.  Even as I watched, a boulder appeared in the gap, sealing and concealing it.  I looked around the now deserted tunnel, perplexed.  The monitor was still glowing, the light was still dim, but there was no other sign of life.  My gaze returned to the monitor.  Most required finger prints to access, but the lower tunnels were still on the old system.  Every citizen had to present their IDs once a sol to security, along with their latest address.  All this was uploaded to the central security system.  John Stone, or Jean-Pierre Baptiste, would have to do the same.  Looking around the deserted and silent tunnel, I stepped to the monitor and tapped it once.  A number pad flashed up, and I smiled.

So easy to hack, I thought as I started pressing the glowing buttons. 

“Freeze!  MMP!”  Martian Military Police.  I froze, grinding my teeth.  Gloved hands grabbed my wrists and forced them together while the icy grip of cuffs held them in place.

“Look, I’m not anywhere I shouldn’t be….”

“Shut up, Marlowe,” someone replied, and my vision darkened as a hood was dumped over my head.


They had me in a single cell, magnetic cuffs holding my ankles and wrists to the wall.

You’d have to be the Hulk to break out of them.

Dim light.  It cost too much to make it bright, like they did in movies back on Earth.  What unnerved me was the fact that there shadows.  Plenty of them.  Plenty to hide someone, while I was standing in what little light there was.

“You’ve built an impressive reputation, Mr. Marlowe,” a cultured voice said from one of the shadows.  Definitely masculine.  And unemotional.

“And you’ve been busy the last day or so.  Walking the tunnels.  Asking questions.”  He paused, while I tried to pinpoint where he was.  “Questions are dangerous things,” he added from the shadow close to me.

“So?  You’ve got nothing on me.”

“Really?”  He had moved away again.  “Hacking the security systems is nothing?  They’re there for a reason.  And then there’s your escapade of ninety sols ago.  And your questions about a certain man.” 

“Is that what this is about?” I asked slowly.  The speaker sighed from a shadow to my right.

“Still asking questions, aren’t you?  Then again, fifty thousand credits would tempt anyone.  What did you plan to do with that?”

“Go home.”

“To your hole in the wall?”  He had moved away again.

“To Earth.”

“Really?  Where would you go?”

“That’s not your business.”

“Actually, it is.  The new government on Earth is looking for examples.  And, as we get our supplies from them, our government is naturally co-operative.”

“New government?”  The speaker sighed again, this time on my left.

“You are behind the times, aren’t you?  All the borders have been dissolved.  There are no countries anymore.  Only their government, and ours.  Your dual citizenship won’t help you anymore.”  My breath caught, and he chuckled softly.  “Yes, we know about that.  Very nicely done, I must say, coming as a British citizen.  They didn’t see that coming.  Obviously, they’d rather have people with an Earth record.  Makes the example stronger.”

“There’s no proof,” I stammered.

“They don’t need proof.”

“What do you want?” I hadn’t meant to shout, and winced at the echo.

“Stone.  Blossom has her own reasons for finding him, we have ours.  Find us Stone, and your records disappear.  Just like that,” he snapped his fingers for effect, and my restraints released, humming softly as they retracted into the wall.  I stepped forward cautiously, testing my new freedom, as the shadow ahead of me changed, releasing a man, tall, broad-shouldered, greying hair and cold grey eyes.  He extended his hand to me, smiling a cool smile.

“Find us Stone within 25 days, and we’ll even throw in a free ride home.”  I hesitated before taking the outstretched hand.  The man squeezed, and I grimaced a little as pain shot up into my wrist.

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The hearty handshake hadn't done my fingers much good. The third aid station I tried wasn't empty, but what was I supposed to do with a tube of nanopoxy and a busted accordion?


Glue your broken fingers to the loose keys.


"Say what?"


 What. Use the white keys as splints. The black ones are too sharp.


Somebody had slipped me a RUFI; a "randomized and unauthorized foreign intelligence."  Once the nanocytes set up a network in your brain, you had a new roommate inside your skull. A roommate that paid the rent with bad advice and Australian folk songs.

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I pushed through the crowd to a bar seat of The Wilderness Grill while "Waltzing Matilda" played in my head and flicked a chip onto the counter.

"Give me a cold one, Clarissa," I demanded.  She raised an eyebrow as she looked me over.  Then again, I would have done the same.  Accordion keys stuck to the fingers of one hand.  Clothes covered with a fine layer of the red dust that gets everywhere in the lower levels.  And I'd just spent the last day-and-a-half without sleep.

Yep, I probably bore close resemblance to a wreck right now.  

Clarissa set a tall beer in front of me, droplets of moisture clinging to the outside of the glass.

"Long day, hon?" she asked, leaning forward to look me in the eye.  I took a large mouthful of the cold liquid, and nodded my head.  

"Any luck finding your man?"

"Not even a hint."  I rolled my head slowly, clicking my neck.  "The lower I got, the less anyone said.  One even refused a chip."

"You could give me one," a nearby customer shouted above the hum of voices.  My doctored fingers were itching from the glue, and I rubbed them.  Clarissa nodded towards it.

"What happened?"

"An over eager introduction," I replied dryly, holding it up for her inspection.

"I'm always willing to introduce myself!" someone interrupted, grabbing my fingers and shaking while maneuvering into the neighboring seat.  "The name's Dodger, and I can help you find anyone."

"Keep your chips close, Marlowe," Clarissa warned, stepping away to attend to another customer.  I looked the newcomer over carefully, extracting my hand from his.  Strands of dirty hair poked out of a knitted cap, crooked teeth that hadn't seen a toothbrush in an age, and an odor that was reminiscent of a skunk.  

Keep your chips close, the RUFI repeated.

"Who you looking for, friend?"

"Not your business," I growled, taking my beer with my good hand and swallowing more of the contents.

"It's my business to know."  He leaned closer and dropped his voice to a whisper.  "I know where the governor puts his keys, and what underwear he uses."  Clarissa walked past, and glanced towards us.  

"Hey, babe, give me a cold one," Dodger called, flicking a chip onto the counter.  I downed the rest of my beer and set the glass the counter, rising at the same time.

"Hey, where you going, friend?" the stranger shouted after me.  I pushed through a group of ice miners, ignoring him, and out the door into the artificial light of the dome.  I'd taken three steps when the door flew open behind me.

"Wait up, partner!" 


"Shut up, and turn that song off," I whispered.  Waltzing Matilda stopped abruptly, and the man calling himself Dodger fell in step with me.

"So, where we going?" he asked.  

"We are not going anywhere."

"Who we looking for?"

"We are not looking for anyone."

"Aw, don't be like that, partner."

"When last did you scan your ID?" I asked.  He laughed, and the sound bounced from the rounded ceilings above us.  

"Have you even looked at me?  We don't live by those rules Underground."

"Good," I replied, before snapping my body sharply to the right and swinging my good fist.  Dodger dropped, the crack of my blow echoing uncomfortably loudly in the deserted area.

People never expect to meet a left-handed street fighter.  Especially not here.

"Stop following me," I ordered as he gingerly touched his mouth and looked the blood now on his fingers.  He released a moan of pain as I walked away.

You could get in trouble, my RUFI whispered.

"He's from Underground.  They don't care what happens to guys from there."  I replied as I punched the button for the elevator that would take me home.

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Posted (edited)

As the door was closing a hand pushed in to open it back up, it was Dodger. I hoped he would try to convince me again. He knows something and I want him to show me where he’s going. The fact that the bright red up arrow didn’t deter him tells me he knows something about stone, and I plan on finding out. I only have 37 more sols to find my mark. “Why are you following me, didn’t I make it clear that I don’t want your help?”

“Oh, but I think you need my help.”

“Why do you say that? Obviously I needed to put a little more ginger in that snap I gave you.”

Laughing, “What? To me that was just a tickle. It’d take a lot more than that to stop me.”

“Then what is it you want?” I said. “Stop beating around the bush, if you think you've got something spit it out already.”

“Careful there big boy.” Matilda says. “Watch his body language.”

Edited by zx1ninja

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Posted (edited)

"Let's just say that I think you've been looking in the wrong place my friend" Dodger tells me. "If your looking for someone, it helps to know what he wants."

"What makes you think I care about that?" I tell him as I keep him at a distance. 

"Oh but your missing the point Marlow. You've been around the block a few times. You've done some things you're not so proud of. What do you think that does ... to your soul?"

Edited by zx1ninja

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You can't unsay a thing like that Maybe you can get a wipe if you can afford it. Or maybe you just crank up the volume on your Zakfeed and pray for the end of your .lift.


I tried to keep unfocused, but Dodger was somehow growing as we neared the domes. Or maybe, like the dandelions we grew back on the farm when I was a kid, he was blooming.


"Where are we going?"


"'Where the bodies are, there shall the eagles gather...'"


He set off toward the Promenade and the security bots ignored him; the " No Panhandling" glyphs flickered out and the cha-ching of credit followed him.


"Are we going to LivingWater?"


"Come and see."  RUFI noted that it was translating Greek.

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