Debra O Millman, Agent, slides onto a stool at one of the hundreds of Scar City Casino bars. This one shines with black marble, huge mirrors framed in gold hanging behind and reflecting a backwards version of the enormous hall of slot machines. Waist-high robots roll in and out of the aisles, serving drinks from trays mounted atop their heads while simultaneously vacuuming the floor. Debra pulls off her leather jacket and lays it on the stool next to her.


“What’ll it be?” the bartender asks, wiping the immaculate surface of the bar.


“Coffee,” Debra says. “I got some thinking to do and I need a clear head.”


She pulls papers out of her bag and arranges them in front of her on the bar. The photograph of Sam Brubeck leaving the hospital. The inconclusive toxicology report from Angelica Brubeck’s autopsy. Screen captures with lists of computer files. She moves them around and then rests her chin on her hands.


The bartender slides a cup of coffee alongside the papers. “Most people here don’t wanna think too much,” he says.


Debra smiles. “I suppose not.”


She pulls a photograph from amongst the papers and sets it on top. It is not part of the case. It’s a memento, mixed in with Debra’s things. She’s never had the nerve to get rid of it.


After a while the bartender returns to refill Debra’s coffee. “How’s it going?” he asks. He knows to ask general questions, never pry, but be friendly.


“Okay,” Debra answers. “I’ve just got – I’ve gotta go see somebody I haven’t seen in a long time. Sometimes that’s awkward, you know?”


“No kidding,” the bartender says. “Worst mistake I ever made was a high school reunion. Everybody was just an older version of the jerks they already were.”


“Well I’m afraid I can’t get out of this one,” Debra says. “It’s part of my case. I just wish there wasn’t – history.”


“I’m sure you’ll get it worked out,” the bartender says, and smiles. He goes back to drying glasses. “You let me know if you need anything. Refills are on me.”


“Thanks,” Debra says. She slides the photograph around. She looks down at it.


“Well, what’s it gonna be, kid?” she asks the photo. “How are we gonna do this?”


The picture shows a young David O Millman, as a student. There’s a lake in the background, and he’s tan and dressed in swim trunks.


He’s got his arm around his girlfriend at the time: Rebecca Mangrove.



NEPTUNE ROAD. Adventure and Mystery. On Neptune.

©2014 Betsy Streeter.






Sam Brubeck walks down the center of a wide but low-ceilinged underground hallway. It is one of many leading down to the caverns that make up the heart of the Scar City Casino. These outer passageways are jammed with the fringe elements, people trying to make a business of telling fortunes, or finding lost people, or selling their wares. Shouts of merchants offering services mix with the noises of equipment, welding, pounding, pieces of metal clanging into one another. One man has amassed a heap of copper wire and offers it for sale. Beside him, a birdlike lady reads fortunes. Weak lightbulbs are strung along the ceiling, makeshift cords snaking down the walls to power people’s machinery.

Sam is looking for something in particular. He scans the crowd, ignoring the people shouting at him or pawing at his arm. Shortly, he spots an item with potential.

It is an ATM, the standalone type that spits out cash – won’t work on Neptune, but useful technology nonetheless. Probably has a transmitter in it. Probably got tossed on Earth and then sent here in a shipment of junk.

Sam makes a deal, and soon he’s wheeling his prize to a quieter part of the passageway. He fires it up. The screen lights up with jumbled characters. No one pays him any mind. Sometimes crowds offer the greatest privacy.

He takes a device from his pocket – a tiny black box with lights on one side. He pops it open, and pulls out a couple of wires. He pulls open the front panel on the ATM and connects the wires. No idea how long this thing will run, how much power is left.

The screen goes blank, which is a good sign.

“Dammit, what is this?” a woman’s voice says.

“Hi mom,” Sam says.


NEPTUNE ROAD. Adventure. Mystery. Hackers. On Neptune.

©Betsy Streeter.






“Help me get this chip out,” Drake Mangrove says to his daughter.


“You know these are explosive, messing with them can get you blown to bits,” Rebecca says, rummaging in a drawer of tools.


“I have every confidence in you, dear,” Dr. Mangrove says, and grins.


“I can get that out for you.” May has materialized in the doorway. That kid is always underfoot.


“Is that another of your talents? Hacking into body chips?” Rebecca asks.


“They put one on me when I was little,” May says. “I had to remove it. Took a few tries. But Dog helped. He’s got a scope. So he looked, and I poked in there, and we disarmed it. There’s a trick to it.”


“He’s all yours,” Rebecca says. “I’m going back to the bridge to see what Feller’s got on Sam’s whereabouts. It seems like we can’t keep anybody on board this heap. One person shows up, another one disappears.”


“Cool,” May says. She’s already selected a pair of electronic tweezers and is poking gently at Dr. Mangrove’s shoulder blade. “I’ll have this out in a minute.”


May and Dr. Mangrove are quiet for a while, as May pokes and prods and disarms the chip. Debra Millman, Agent, will not be happy to lose her surveillance device. But she had to know it wouldn’t stay in there. Dr. Mangrove’s people are all hackers.


“Tell me, May,” Dr. Mangrove says after a while, “Do you remember Earth at all?”


“Never been to Earth,” May says. “I was born here. Hold still.”


“But… that’s not possible,” Dr. Mangrove says. “The Calamities wiped out everyone. There were no life signs…”


“Well, they missed one,” May says matter-of-factly.


“I guess they did,” Dr. Mangrove says.


May holds out her hand. In her palm rests a disarmed tracking chip.



NEPTUNE ROAD. Adventure. Mystery. Hackers. On Neptune.

©Betsy Streeter.



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“This is much more civilized,” Drake Mangrove says, lifting a cup of tea to his lips. There’s sand in his saucer, since the cafe where he and Debra Millman sit is on the periphery of an outdoor market, but it beats an interrogation room by a mile.

“Indeed it is,” Debra Millman, Agent, says. “I have never found interrogation rooms to be much use. People tend to get inarticulate when you beat them up.”

“The female form you’re in is friendlier, too,” Dr. Mangrove says. “How long have you been sporting this look?”

“Since I got here. Changed on the transport.”

“Well, it takes the edge off. The male version is a little more – I don’t know, unfriendly – if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Can we talk about Sam Brubeck now?” Debra Millman asks. “I need you to know, we have footage of him leaving the hospital in haste minutes after Angelica was found dead in her room. We can place him at the scene. We also know that he was her last visitor. Now, why do you suppose he was at the hospital, and why did he leave so quickly?”

“No idea,” Dr. Mangrove says. “Maybe he was upset. His mother was in a coma.”

“Well what has he told you since he got here?” Millman asks.

“Nothing,” Dr. Mangrove says, and sips his tea. “Do you suppose they have biscuits, here?”

“Drake, what has he told you? You two have spoken. I need to know what he has said to you. Anything, even a small comment, could break this case open.”

“He needed somewhere to stay,” Dr. Mangrove says. “So, I gave him one. No clue if he’s still there. I’m going to get a biscuit.” Dr. Mangrove gets up from his chair.

Debra Millman stares into space. Of course Drake doesn’t want to accuse the son of a close friend of murder. But this is going nowhere.

And now, Drake Mangrove is nowhere. Agent Millman scans the crowd, but her tea companion has disappeared.

“Drake, you’re such a dork,” Debra says under her breath. Whatever. Now that there’s a tracking chip on him, she can find him whenever she wants.

Time for more research.

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Hello Neptunians,


Let’s skip the niceties today – we’ve got some important info.


Warning: Do NOT go out to the drop site North of Market 22. Repeat, do NOT go out to the drop site North of Market 22. Update your maps so you know what we’re talking about.


We know it’s tempting, folks, there’s probably some righteous stuff in there – metal, wire, engine parts, batteries – it can be a real temptation to see if you can get out of there with a few leftover goodies from Earth.


And trust us, we understand that a good generator or a battery can mean the difference in a storm situation.


But we’re hearing that it’s not a good scene out there. People are going out and not coming back. In fact, they’re not making it to the site in the first place. We hear tell of at least six people thus far who have gotten sucked right down into the ground at a radius of about fifty feet away. Went under, haven’t been back. All over in a second.


Is the surface undermined in the area? We don’t know. Is there an imminent collapse? We can’t be sure. Could be anything. But be warned – there’s a perimeter around the site, and if you go inside of it, you risk heading underground on a permanent basis.


Let’s let the experts do their job. If you are an expert, please go out there and do your job.


That’s it for now, consider yourself warned. Radio Neptune out.

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NEPTUNE ROAD. Adventure. Mystery. Hackers.

©Betsy Streeter.