was in the communal baths on A Hall, getting ready for a shower, reliving myself at the big urinal there, when I first saw her. Actually, she approached me. I was naked, as were many others there. What I saw was a petite girl in messy clothes, no shoes, holding a water bottle, very dirty, probably half my age, looking at me and sizing me up.
She said, "I'll hold for you, 2 Lunas."
I was familiar with the practice of holding, although it was mostly something done in Hiten City, at Luna's South Pole, where the Japanese enjoy those sort of things. But this was Bighead City, crown city of Luna. Plus, she was not Asian as far as I could see. My guess was Latino, but she was in such a bad way, so dirty, that I couldn't tell for sure.
"Hello," I said. She just looked at me.
"Well," I continued, "I don't need you to hold for me today, thank you very much." By that point it was moot. "But, I am just getting ready to shower. Tell you what, if you want to share the shower, fine with me. You look like you could use it." She seemed unsure, but didn't waver. "I mean share for free, of course, and I'll spot you some dinner too. I'm a writer. I think you probably have a story to tell, and if you tell me your story, I'll let you tag along. You get a shower and dinner, and you entertain me."
"I don't do sex," she said.
"And I'm not asking. Just share the shower and food and tell me about yourself."
"What's your name?" I asked as we walked over to the shower line.
"Gina. What's yours?"
"Pavlov Jones. Call me PJ." She stared up at me as we moved forward in the line. Her hair was a mess, but her dark brown eyes were clear and focused. No sign of drugs. Her hands were steady as she reached out for the soap pat and towel that the attendant held. He looked at her with a smirk. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm with him," she said pointing back at me. "Fine," he said, giving me a knowing wink. A shower stall opened up and he motioned us toward it. "Be careful with that stuff," he warned me with a glance at the girl, and then to both of us, "Five minutes hot, one cold. Happy cleaning."
The stall had a bench to one side. Gina pulled off her shirt and shorts, put them and the towel down then followed me into the shower stream with the soap. "We're going to have to do this quick," I said. "Lather up fast then hand me the pat."
She ran the soap over her brown skin in a quick and methodical fashion, starting with her feet then moving up her legs, hips, torso, shoulders arms and face. "I'll do your hair," I said and she gave me the soap. She turned her back to me and I paused for just a moment to watch her scrub a few delicate places. She looked both strong and delicate. Proud yet vulnerable. She was really quite a jewel. Damn.
I worked the soap into her hair, gave the pat back to her, and proceeded to massage her scalp. It was delightful, once the soy oil started breaking up the grease. In Luna's low gravity, water acts like syrup. I could have mixed her hair with the soap and water all day, but soon enough the beep warned that we had one minute left. Gina turned and ran the soap pat over me quickly then rinsed as the water cooled. I had about 30 seconds to wash and rinse before the tap shut off.
"Grab your clothes and we'll go dry off by the lockers," I said.
"Sorry, you didn't have too much time," she said to me with a smile. I moved to give the rest of the soap pat to the attendant, but she grabbed it and hid it under the towel. I shrugged at the boy as we moved past.
"My locker is over here," I said and led the way to the outer room.
She toweled herself off carefully then started in on me. I let her dry me, finally bending down so she could do my hair. "Thanks," I said.
I watched her as she pulled on her pants, putting the soap into a pocket, and then dropped her shirt on over her small, perfect breasts. She pulled her hair out from the shirt and used her fingers to straighten it. "How do I look?" she asked.
"Good enough to eat."
I took her to the Good Eats place on A hall, not far from the baths. She gave me an unlikely history of herself between eating as much food as I could get on the table in front of her, a good trick for someone as small as she was. The best thing for me was just watching her, but the life story was interesting, if true.
She had been born on L4, the big spinning habitat ahead of Luna in its orbit. Born to a working class family, and orphaned at an early age, she had been forced to live with a much older sister. She confirmed that she was Latino. Things were fine for some time until her sister took up with a tech from Hiten City. "We moved down to the South Pole with him," she said, "and I really hated it. I finally made my way up here about a year ago and have been living rough ever since."
"You are homeless?" I asked.
"I've got a storage bin on C Hall that's big enough for me to fit in. I sleep there most times. It's cramped but it works. I don't have much stuff anyway. I make money at odd jobs."
"Like holding strange men's penises for them while they relieve themselves?" She didn't answer. "Something you picked up in Hiten?"
"I had a friend there who made good money doing that, but she also bunked with clients, so the holding was not her main income."
I didn't press the subject. "So what are your plans? I mean, what does the future hold for you?"
At this point she ignored me and concentrated on her food. I watched her as she finished everything, drank her juice down and then licked her fingers clean. I finally asked, "Can I walk you anywhere? Do you want to go to your bin?"
"Yea, sure." She looked disappointed, like maybe she was hoping for another entre, so on the way out I bought her a bag of Good Bits, the chocolate things that make a mess of anything that they touched. She ate from the bag as we walked down the ramps to B, then C Hall.
She led me to a section set well to the west of C Square. It had a warehouse feel to it, with signs for import companies and repair shops. We had just rounded a kiosk when she stopped short and gasped. Ahead was a wall of cheap storage bins. She whirled around and grabbed me with a chocolate smeared hand. "My bin!" she whispered.
I looked at the collection of bins. The side of the hall was covered with them. Two rows, ten columns. One of the lower bins had a bright orange security notice slapped to it, with a shiny new lock placed over the latch. "The tagged one is yours?" She nodded. "Damn." I scanned down the hall to the left and saw a security guard moving slowly in our direction. I didn't know if Security would be looking for her, but I pushed Gina back behind the kiosk, pulled my shirt off quickly and dropped it over her head. She put her arms through the sleeves and I straightened it out. It fit her like a dress, coming down almost to her knees. I pulled her head against my chest. I could see the guard now as he came into view. To Gina's credit she went with it, putting her arms around my waist.
The guard passed us, glancing over briefly. He smiled but continued on. A shirtless man was not unusual in Bighead City. Even nudity was acceptable, and common in some places like in the baths. I stroked Gina's hair affectionately and looked around. There was a drop further up the hall. "My place is on A," I told her. "But my stuff!" she said. "Not now. Keep your head down and stay right next to me. We're going to take that drop up."
We swung into the drop together, she clinging to me as we stepped onto the belt. As we passed B Common I could see security walking through it. We rode up to A and moved out into the crowded hall. I led her towards the ramp that went up to the Grand Plaza, along the edge of the park there, with the stars shining through the surface dome. I kept her close to me as we passed it and moved into a side hall. Down that we turned into a foyer, and I palmed the door. It slid aside for us and I looked back as it closed. No one seemed to have noticed us. The inside hall led past several doors. I hurried her along to a turn at the end where stood one remaining door. I palmed it and we stepped inside.
My cave was actually a couple of converted dorm rooms from the old University just above in the Plaza. The layout was unconventional. Barred windows looked down onto B Common on the right. I had a sofa there, and a desk with a com in it. A table with chairs was to the left. Across the room was a door leading into a bathroom. We moved through that into my other room, the bedroom.
Gina dropped onto the bed, put her head into her hands and started shaking. I watched her for a minute. My furry white feline roommate, Nord, who usually was very skeptical of strangers, jumped up onto the bed and rubbed up against her. Gina took one look at him and started petting him. It was heartwarming to see. "That's Nord," I said. "If he likes you it is a very good sign."
She picked him up and put him in her lap. "I thought Pavlov had a dog," she said. I grimaced at her but it was evidence of an education at least.
"Excuse me for a moment," I said, then spoke into the air, "Com, Stephany, box 3." In a moment I heard a triple click. "Steph, I need some help. Get back to me as soon as you can. I've got a new friend here and she will need some help and advice. I'll fill you in later."
"Who's that?" Gina asked.
"A good friend. Actually an ex of mine. Someone I can trust. Someone with special talents who works for the city." The com. buzzed. "Hi Steph," I said. "Thanks for getting back so quick. Can you come around? I've got a young lady here who ran into a bit of trouble...OK, that will work...No it's not like that...You'll find out when you get here...Sure, an hour is fine, bye."
I sat down on the bed next to Gina and said, "Steph will be here in an hour or so. She's very resourceful. Her husband Mark is a tech in the government offices and can find things out that the average citizen cannot. He's a solid guy. Steph, who works with the port, is a wiz with information too. Now before she gets here I think you had better tell me a little more about yourself. The truth. Do you think you can do that?"
She looked at me for a moment, then turned her attention back to Nord. "Do you want your shirt back?" she asked.
"No, it looks good on you. And I'll have Steph fetch some clothes for you after you've met. You may want to take off those rags you're wearing under that shirt in the meantime." She shrugged, stood up and stripped down. I took her old clothes into the bath as she put my shirt back on. She followed me in.
"So you have your own bathroom? Why do you go to the baths?"
I put her soiled clothes into the sink, removing the almost empty bag of Good Bits and the soap pat from her pockets. "No hot water here," I said. "I can heat water for a sponge bath or to wash my hair, but there's nothing like a full blown hot shower." I rubbed the clothes with the pat of soap, stopped up the sink and ran water over everything. "Plus," I continued, "I have only a small water allotment. Not enough to use the shower hot or cold." I gestured to the shower stall, which I used for storage.
She looked unimpressed, but she did put a finger into the sink's water to check the temperature.
"How much of what you told me before was true?" I asked.
"Right," I said, moving into the living room and sitting down at my desk. "New file, title Gina," I said to com, then to the girl, "Let's start at the beginning again, and do give me a bit more of the story, including anything that might be of relevance to your predicament."
She walked over to the window and looked down. Nord followed her. "Like I said, I'm from L4. I was born there. My folks died while working on its construction. My sister brought me to Hiten when I was fifteen. When we moved in with her boyfriend things got bad. She and I didn't get along anymore and I hated the guy. So I came here."
"I hitched on a transport. The pilot was nice but I had to pay weight fee. My sister helped me with some money. Luce. And the bin is in her name. But I'm not a registered citizen, so I do what I can to get by."
"You've got a com?"
"Yea, a basic one. It's in the bin. The com is in Luce's name too."
"So, give me your full name and birth date."
"Gina Marie Guzman. Eleven twelve, two one eight nine."
"Your sister is Luce Guzman?"
"Yes." Gina turned to look at me. "Can't we keep her out of this?"
"Not if the bin is in her name. Was she your guardian? After your folks passed?"
"Yes. But I'm 19 now. I'd rather not have to see her or talk to her again."
"Well, we will see what we can do. Want anything to drink?" I went to the small cooler in the bathroom and opened it. "I don't have much. Beer or fizzy water."
"Why am I not surprised?" We talked over some more of her history, but it was just a rehash of what she had told me at dinner. She sat cross-legged on the sofa, with my shirt pulled up around her waist. I kept my eyes on her face, mostly. She was a mousey little thing, but really quite cute. Nord groomed himself beside her.
My com buzzed. It was Stephany at the hall door. I went out to get her.
"Hey, PJ, so what's up."
I kissed her cheek and led her back to my cave. "I rescued a hall urchin. Cute little thing. Now she's drinking my beer."
Back In my living room I introduced Steph to Gina. "Gina, this is my dear friend Stephany, who I almost married years ago. It is her good fortune that that never happened."
"And Mark's good fortune too," she said. She smiled at Gina and sat next to her on the sofa. "And don't let PJ make any moves on you," she told the girl. "He's a lecherous old man." Gina laughed. Steph was tall and curvy, much bigger than Gina. The contrast between them was pronounced.
"PJ was right," she said. "You are a real cutie. And in a bit of trouble, so I hear."
"Yea, I guess."
"Steph, I've started a file on her. Here's what I've got so far." She came over to the desk, sat down, and scanned the text. It was a transcript of our conversation. Her first question was, "Do you have a visual of the Security notice on her bin?"
"No we didn't get that. Not even a close look at it." Steph asked Gina for the bin's location, and in a moment she had a security cam visual of the wall of bins up on the screen. Gina walked over, surprise on her face. "How did you get that?"
"PJ has resources. This is a live feed." She was able to zoom in on the bins, moving down to Gina's. A closer image came up, and Steph made a cap of it, then cut the connection. She processed the image, enlarging it again. With that we could just make out the print. "This property has been secured by Bio Security until further notice."
"Bio Security?" Steph asked. You have organics in there?"
"Well, some food and water."
"That's it? Must be a lot of food."
"No just some snacks." She fidgeted with the front of the shirt. "But there is a lot of water."
"Not exactly," Gina said looking guilty. "It's, uh, a bunch of bottles of water from the baths."
"Sorta. Actually they are bottles of urine. From lots of different people."
Bighead City was, like all space habitats, a place where all organics were valuable. Plant, animal, human...it was important to recycle and reuse ever bit of organic material. But some organics were more valuable than others. I always thought the baths had a great business model. Get people to pay to shower or soak there, and then harvest the waste water. And peeing there was free. Human urine had all sorts of good stuff in it. Copper, mercury, nickel and zinc for instance. And lots of nitrogen and phosphorus too, which were great for fertilizer.
Stephany looked up at me and asked, "You know about this?" So I told her about our meeting at the baths, and why Gina had first approached me. She then asked Gina, "So you collect urine and sell it on the shadow market?"
"And you get guys to piss in a bottle?"
"Sometimes. The way water flows in slow motion here on Luna, it's pretty easy to get the aim right. Not like on L4. A man comes around my bin once a month to get the bottles, and leaves me empties."
Steph stood up and looked me straight in the eyes. "Did we ever do that PJ? The holding thing I mean?"
"I don't remember but it sounds like fun."
She smiled and giggled. "Yea, it does." She turned to Gina. "I might have to try that with my husband Mark. But we are going to make use of him for something else right away. He works in the city law offices and will be able to get me some info on that security lock on your bin. That will have to be done tomorrow. And I will get you some clothes and other necessaries tomorrow. I suggest you stay here tonight. Despite what I said earlier, PJ is a total angel. You can trust him. I see you are already wearing his clothes."
"Thanks," said Gina.
Back out in the hall, before Steph left, she said to me, "Be careful with that little girl, Pav. She's smarter than she looks. And with the way she looks, I bet you are turning flips inside. She driving you crazy?"
"What do you think?"
I gave Gina my bed for the night. Nord always slept there, and it was much more comfortable than the sofa. Besides, I wanted to do some work on my com. She seemed fine with it, especially when Nord snuggled up next to her. I watched them for a moment, then went back to the living room. I did a bit of research on com, checking on my portfolio, then on the European markets. That done, I started a worm for the key 'Luce Guzman' and also one for 'urine chemical extractions' as an afterthought. I then stretched out on the sofa for a short nap. Except that it turned into a long nap. Guess I was more worn out than I realized.
It was around 3 in the morning when consciousness came back, slowly. The first thing I noticed was that Nord was asleep on my chest. He liked doing that. I tried to raise my arm to stroke his hair and found that there was a substantial weight preventing that. It was Gina. She was lying next to me, pressed up against my left side. She was naked and asleep.
I gently untangled myself but it woke her anyway. "Are you OK Gina? How come you are not in the bed?"
She moved her leg over mine and said, "I had a nightmare. Please let me stay with you here."
"Well, fine, but I think the three of us will be better off in the bed. Want to move?"
So we made our way into the bedroom. I started to climb into the bed with my clothes on, but she stopped me, saying, "Oh, no, you've got to take that stuff off." I compromised by removing everything but my underwear. I could tell she wasn't satisfied, but she said no more. She wrapped herself around me and we fell back asleep. Well at least she and Nord did. I did too, eventually, but not after spending the better part of an hour with my arm around her body, smelling the soap in her hair. I eventually got my breathing down to normal.
Steph came by mid morning. She had called first and I asked her to fetch some breakfast for Gina. "I've already thought of that," she said. "And a few other things too. Please have your clothes on when I get there."
Gina stayed naked anyway, which worked out fine as the first thing Steph produced was a parcel of clothes for the girl. They spent some time trying various outfits on her, talking girl talk, giggling like best friends. I think. Actually I may never understand girls.
I had to reheat the eggs and potatoes for Gina, and while she was eating, Steph and I checked my com for the results on my worms. There was very little on Luce Guzman aside from her monetary history. Luce did not spend a lot, which suggested that she traded in something other than credit, or someone else spent on her. There was no work history at all.
"You may have to contact the sister," Steph said. "But let's wait to see what Mark finds out about the bin lock."
Mark joined us during his lunch hour. A handsome devil, I liked him immensely and Steph and he were a great team. As a tech in the mayor's office, he was tops in his field and well liked. He had done the research on Gina using info from Steph, so got right to the point.
"Gina, your sister's bin, and I say that because it is registered to her, was pegged as containing bio-hazard after a new scan law took effect recently. The law allows companies to scan people's caves, storage areas, or even coms if the items are rented. Scans are done in several ways, and for bio concerns you may be surprised to know that dogs are usually used, as was done in your case. It is illegal to harbor any bio-hazard in a rental."
"But what is so hazardous about urine?" Gina asked.
"The urine in your bin, at least some of it, must contain some unusual substances. I could not find out what triggered the bio alarm. It could be a sufficiently high concentration of illegal drug traces, or heavy metal traces, or something else. With urine from the baths, you could have anything."
"Now, I checked on the payments for the bin, and for the pocket com you have there, and it seems that your sister paid for two year plans on both, then shut down the credit source. Meaning that after two years, you would have been out of a bin and a working com. When was the last time you talked to her?"
"The last time I saw her in Hiten, right before I left. She did tell me she would pay for two years. She and I really didn't get along and she said she'd do that, but no more. She doesn't want to see me again. I've been here for almost one year."
"I see. Well, here's the deal. You are probably not going to get the bin or the com back. Your sister will almost assuredly not get into any trouble because of the pre payments. The City will confiscate your possessions and will likely sell them at auction. It's too small a matter for legal action. I am going to suggest that you stay out of sight for the present. You are not a registered citizen. We need to set up a fake arrival here for you on a transport that arrives in the near future. You won't be on it of course, but it will explain your presence. Then we need to get you registered some way."
"How can I possibly pay for all of that? And I don't have any skills I could register with. I'm not under age anymore. I'd just be kicked out."
"Gina," I said, "I'll take care of the transport ticket. That I can easily do." I turned to Mark and continued, "But what about the rest of it? Are you suggesting we work up a fake job for her?"
"No," Mark said. "I'm suggesting that you serve as an employer."
"Let me think that one over for a bit."
Steph let out a laugh and looked at me with no sympathy. "The old bachelor has some hard thinking to do, eh? Well, good luck." She and Mark left soon after that, but she promised to return later with toiletries and such for Gina.
"What was he talking about?" Gina asked.
"Well, first let's cover a few things. You say you have no skills. But you seem to be pretty smart. Are you willing to work?"
"You will remember that I told you that I am a writer. That's something of a simplification. Actually I do something called corporate investigating."
"You mean you are a cop?" She looked alarmed.
"No, cops and I don't mix. I collect information about corporations. For people who pay well for the information."
"You mean you are a spy?"
"Sort of. But not in a sexy way." I smiled. "I could use a helper who is smart on her feet, and knows how to get around the city without attracting notice. Someone like you."
"I can do that I guess, but is that something I could register for?"
"If I make you an employee. It would have to be a registered job. The pay would be adequate, don't worry about that. But I would have some responsibilities in respect to you, so I want to be careful here. Can I trust you?"
Gina's reaction was not what I expected. She just looked at me. No expression. I kept waiting for her to say something, but she remained silent.
"Yea, well," I said. "If you will excuse me for a minute I need to use the bathroom." I walked over to the door.
"PJ," she called after me, "Can I hold?"