Oct 24, 2022 • 17M

Ithaka, Chapter Two

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Selected readings of longer form, serial fiction by the author. Episodes premiere weekly after story introduction.
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Welcome back to episode 2 of “Ithaka”. If you haven’t already done so, please go back to listen to episode one.

Episode one

We met an unknown man whose death brings up many questions as to his origin. In another scene, we flash back to the past in the midst of a critical conversation in front of a Senate committee.

2.

A man with a fistful of wavy brown hair and a wide stride approached the glass doors before swiftly moving aside to let someone out. Once inside, he paused to check his phone, then tousling his hair before scanning the room for someone he did not yet recognize.

Anaella rose half way out of her seat and waved him over. The man flashed a relieved smile and strolled over to the table.

“Hi! I’m Anaella Bahn.”
“Hey, nice to meet you. Minos.”

They shook hands as she muffling a chuckle.

Minos sighed. “That smile! Yeah, I’m one of those.”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“It’s Minos K. Headley XIV. Last of the Headley empire and heir to all their holdings,” he said with a dramatic flair.

They were still holding hands when she broke his grip and sat down.

“How was the journey out here?”
“Not bad. I just landed yesterday and got a hotel.”
“Have you been able to see the town or anything?”
“Not really. I’ve traveled here before, I just never got out much.”
“Okay, so where are you from?”

Minos shifted in his chair and recounting his childhood on Earth before his years-long journey as a latch-key kid on a spacecraft to Waystation. His father, nicknamed Lucky, had all but evaporated once Minos had settled in and made new friends. A caretaker raised him until he was old enough to be on his own.

“I didn’t know what to do though. I hadn’t really learned a skill or gotten much schooling after we left Earth when I was like 14. I had to kind of figure it out. My dad was gone. So I ended up finishing high school and getting a college degree over a few years remotely.”
“Wow, I had no idea. How about your mom?”
“She didn’t come. Said she wouldn’t be caught dead in a spacesuit. When we left, she hugged me so tight, stared so long. I kind of shrugged it off. I didn’t know it, but she had cancer. She didn’t want to be out here with no life line. She died the day we landed in Waystation.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I think we don’t realize how much we need our parents, even when we say we don’t.” He shrugged and glanced blankly at his folded hands.

They sat silent as the cafe beat with the slow hum of idle chatter. Anaella bowed her head in some gesture of misplaced reverence, of a shred of shared mourning. He stared intently at her, peeling away the layers and peering inside. She could feel her chest expand with warmth and her eyes sting.

“Where does the name Bahn come from?” Minos said finally.

Anaella’s face bloomed from it’s wilt.

“I-It doesn’t mean anything, as far as I know,” she stammered. “My great great…great grandmother made it up or something. She wanted to start fresh.”
“I hear that. How long has your family been here?”
“I’m a 6th generation so about 200 years.”
”Oh wow. I mean, you know what my family does. I’m kind of a drifter. How about you?”
“I work at the investigative offices. Crime rate is pretty low but people still need our services.”
“What, like police?”
“No, no, that whole structure was redone. We specifically investigate and gather evidence. We don’t make arrests or kick down doors.”
“Do you get interesting cases?”
“Sometimes. Mostly uncomplicated stuff but occasionally the world surprises us.”

He locked eyes until she broke the trance with an artfully placed cough and pointed his attention out the window.

“The apartment isn’t far from here. Nice two bedroom with an office area and pretty big kitchen, if you like to cook, that is.”
“I like to dabble a bit. You know, boil water.”

He flashed an easy smile which she couldn’t help but return.

“So what brings you to your namesake?” Anaella asked.
“I’ve been bouncing around for a little while and am looking to settle down. Get a job, live a boring life… How much do I owe you for rent?” he said.
“Umm, nothing right now. We can work that out later.”
“Oh,” he said, with raised eyebrows.

She smiled dryly and traced the deep red-brown grains of wood with her eyes, silently willing Minos to stop staring.

As if on cue, he rubbed the tops of this thighs and glanced around before rising from his chair. “I think I should head out. You probably have more people to see.”

“I think you got the job.” Anaella said quickly. “If you’ve got time, you can move in this weekend. I’m working on a case but I’ll be around.“
“Okay. Can’t wait to see you then.”

Warmth spread over her face as she waved.

He turned and slipped smoothly around patrons and exited without looking back.

Anaella threw open the door to see a haggard Minos with bags slung over his shoulders.

“Welcome, welcome. Let me grab something.”

She teetered under the weight of his luggage and set them down in his room. The bed was freshly made with folded towels on his dresser. The window was open and the air smelled faintly of burning firewood and forest.

“This is it. Umm, the bathroom is down that way along with the laundry closet. I didn’t know if you had anything clean, so there’s some night clothes for you in case—“
“I’m fine,” he said, stepping closer. “I appreciate it. Just let me get settled. I’ll make some of that boiled water you like.”

Anaella let an amused grin spread at the corner of her mouth.

“I’ll be in the next room. It’s early. We can still take a look around town.”

The town center was reminiscent of places Minos had visited before: quaint cobblestoned streets were lined with three-story buildings with stores on their first floor.  Narrow entrances were framed with detailed molding, each more unique than the last. They passed through walls of complex aromas ranging from spice blends to sticky sweet pastries. Minos trailed Anaella wide-eyed, peering through store windows of craftsman at looms or behind long stone countertops folding and spinning treats.

“I’ve been so isolated. Feels like I don’t know anything about this planet.”

“Well, this is Ithaka of course, one of the largest cities on the mainland of Nesh. Tame is northwest of here, where they raise livestock and grow grain to feed them. Jefferson, which was renamed Community, is the seat of our government which is a hybridized version of a couple different types of systems. We have the government, education, and professional offices really clustered in that area. We’ve got to head out there one day to see it, but it’s gorgeous. Really flowy, low-to-the-ground design with lots of green space. It’s inviting and understandably, a great place to recover if you’re in a support center down there.

“Dom is the second largest land mass to the southeast which is where they do a lot of fabrication, you know, creating cogs and pistons. They have a couple large cities like Cranford, Brennan, and Westwood.

“It sounds crazy but we are still mapping out this planet, even after 300 years. There are still people migrating in all directions for better weather or soil. My family in particular settled in Community around the time it was founded, so we’re the academic type. The Bahns led one of the first cooperative efforts to capture information about the planet. Seems obvious, but more we learn about this world, the better we can work with it and adapt to it.

“Damn, I’ve been talking you ear off. Any other questions or maybe things you’d want to see?”

“Naw, it’s fine. It’s interesting. We’re used to worlds already formed. We never get to shape one,” Minos said.

“I’m not sure that’s true. We shape the world with our intentions, emotions, and actions. We get to shape little worlds every day with the people we know.”

They walked in step silently for a while, taking in snapshots of a tranquil valley town bordered by thunderous mountains in the far distance.

“So you’re in investigations, right? Is there security at least?”

“Not really. There’s Health, Investigations, Safety, and Support where we are all teams. Our Safety TMs are specifically for dangerous situations. People call for the service they need and we provide it.”

“Anyone ever try to, you know, cheat the system?” Minos said with a sudden suspicious eye.

“I mean, it’s not that it can’t happen, but there’s really no need. There are places to go and staff who can help. I’d say people generally use services we provide. They haven’t really learned to abuse a system because there’s a high level of trust.”

“I don’t believe that,” Minos scoffed.

“It’s not about what you believe. Think about it, people came here and brought everything, good and bad. They brought hierarchy, government, bigotry, vice, everything. So we set up this tiny version of what we knew before and wondered why we had the same problems.”

“How did you build what’s here today?”

Anaella stared off ahead and wrapped her scarf more tightly against a rising chill. Her voice started low.

“When this planet was first settled, the founders created an ideal society for themselves but hell for the people, my ancestors, who served them. Everything you see here was plotted and planned. The best materials were sourced and brought on enormous cargo ships. We’re still piecing parts of the story together but we know that what was hidden on Earth, was in the open here. There was nothing to stop it. They did unforgivable things,” she said, her face drawn and pensive.

“The people under their thumbs rebelled and met them with even greater cruelty. The founders were slaughtered,” she said plainly.

Minos’s face hardened with bitterness. “They weren’t any better then.”

“No one is proud of how we got here but we acknowledge the history as fact. We don’t glorify it, but we do provide context. There are people at the top of a pyramid who control what’s below them, but they occupy a small population. Most are just instruments of the powerful. So the question is: what blocks need to be removed to collapse the structure?”

They ducked through a small side street and underneath an archway, which opened into a massive square tiled with marbled stone slabs and bordered by a colorful mosaic. They weaved in between crowded seated areas and found a spot to sit.

“Probably ones toward the middle?”

“Not necessarily. Pyramids are sturdy by nature of their shape. So, you have to remove several blocks at all levels at the right intervals. If you’re lucky, it’ll be rubble, but most likely, some parts of it will remain. That’s when you build a new structure which will inevitably be based on the old, then destroy that too. Eventually with these cycles of destruction, you clear the land and get a new shape altogether. That’s the core of Community.”

“Damn, you’re good. You could still be a teacher.”

“Eh. Maybe I should have been. I’m sure I would have been a real force on Earth.“

“I think so. But that pyramid was and probably still is, where people built their whole lives. Can’t give that up.”

“You can hold on and drown or let go and live.”

“So, we know he probably got dumped by a compost truck. The farmer would have heard or felt a larger craft even if he was on the other side of the field. And those little kiddy hover crafts can’t hold more than an average teenager.” Anaella said.
“Yup.”
“Where’s the next truck yard then?”
“I looked up a couple that are in the area. There’s one on Norwood that’s close to the field. Bold, but a possibility. There’s also one a little farther out on Beech that is not far from the Kinney Station,” Kane said.
“Why do we care about the one near Kinney?”
“Because whoever dropped the man off may not be from around here and would have needed a speedy exit.”
Anaella raised his eyebrows and nodded in agreement. “That’s possible too. Where to first?”
“Kinney,” he said.

They parked at the far edge of a long strip of tarmac near a large and imposing hunter green structure with a bright yellow sprout logo on one side. Repurposed from a spacecraft hanger and landing field, it was now a compost processing center but still had its enormous sliding doors.

The right wall was lined with dark green hover trucks, each with halos of black, speckled concrete stains beneath them. On the left wall were roofless partitions with a front desk where a burly man in khaki work pants and a company tee shirt sat.

“Morning!” Kane bellowed.

The man was quick to his feet and jogged over, darting his eyes from one to the other as he approached and stretched out a firm hand.

“Morning,” he said placing his arms akimbo. “How can I help you?”
“Hey, I’m Detective Bahn. This is my partner, Detective McCullough. I have some questions about your trucks.”

The man tipped his head up to shoot a quick look at his fleet.

“Nice to meet you, I’m Laurence. What about them?”
“We think one of them might have done some illegal dumping in a field at the edge of Ithaka.”
“One of mine?” His planted pointed fingers to his chest.
“We’re just checking it out.”
“Do you have a log of your routes?” Kane asked.
“Sure. I mean, we all do. From when?”
“About four days ago.”
“Let me see.”

Laurence walked back to the computer and pulled up the routes for all ten trucks. He squinted hard, then shook his head and folded his arms across his chest.

“No, we don’t service that area. Not at all. I did have one off line for repairs, but I fixed that myself. A thief would have gotten a big surprise.”
“Okay, thank you for your time,” Anaella said.

They took pointed glances around the stark building as they exited the doors onto the runway.

“What did you think?” Kane asked.
”I don’t think we’ll find anything there. Routing software is hard to fake. And his place is too clean. I could barely smell anything.”
“Fair enough. On to the next?” Kane said.
“Yeah. I’ve always loved a ‘hiding in plane sight’ answer to a mystery.”

The compost center on Norwood was, by comparison, small and rundown, with vines snaking up a corner of the building and hugging the rusted frame of a locked front door. The pair ducked through a side gate down an unkempt, but well tread path, peering through a row of windows obscured with dust and grease. At the back was a beaten metal door left ajar.

Kane ushered Anaella behind him and pried open the door. The air was colder inside than out.

“Flashlight?” she whispered.
He shook his head. “No, I’ll find a switch.”
He crept over the threshold and into the room. Blackness washed across his back until he disappeared.
“I think I got it!” He whispered back toward the door. He flicked on the light revealing a dingy shop with scattered tools on a workbench next to the door and a few older model hover trucks on the far wall.

Anaella’s lips folded into a frown, then a wide-mouthed look of shock as she dashed across the room.

“Kane, look out!”


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