Bureaucrat Zelma Flaherty stopped by to chat with her boss Morgan Proctor carrying a rock in her hand. "Look what turned up in the lost and found, Miss P."
Morgan didn't even look up from her computer screen. "It's not another one of those action figures, is it? You can keep it if it is. I've got enough Simpsons figures to be buried in them."
"No...it's a stone." She placed it on the desk in front of her boss. "Where do you think it came from?"
Morgan picked it up, as if to measure the weight in her hand. "That's a Mars rock."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, I'm sure alright. I spent quite a bit of time there as a teenager. I saw quite a bit of these littering the red landscape there." She gazed at the dark volcanic rock, and her mind was transported back through the years.
It was late in the day as a teenager named Morgan Proctor stepped off a ship at the Ray Bradbury Starport on Mars; the cold hit her immediately. Her hair was a mess, and she still wore her University of Syracuse hoodie that she'd worn back on Earth. She'd been here before on brief visits, but this time she was going to be exiled here for three Earth months. So many things to get used to. They don't even call them days here, she thought, they call them Sols or solar days. A year here is nearly two Earth years. By the way, where the hell is Pops?
"Hey, Scooter," sounded a familiar voice across the tarmac, "over here."
Darn it...I know he loves me, but will he ever quit calling me that name? He came up with it when I was a baby still in the womb.
Morgan walked over to greet her father Conrad. He was bald on top, with blonde hair and a beard. "Did you have any problem with freefall?"
"You know me too well, Dad. Not so much on this trip. A lady three rows up really pitched her cookies, though."
"The acceleration really gets to some people."
Morgan's father took her out to an ancient gray Kuznetsov aircar.
"Oh, Daddy - you still drive this thing? Let Mom buy you a decent car at least."
"Baby, I don't want to have this conversation. This car runs...it may not look like much, but it runs."
The two watched the sun slip below the red sands as they drove north to his house.
"Do you still live in the same place in Viking Landing?"
"Yes...near the concrete place...near the Kepler Canal."
When the car pulled up next to his house, it dropped to the ground with a thump instead of gently landing on its supports. Across the red horizon they could see the distant lights of Olympica City, the largest habitation on Mars.
"Every once in a while you'll hear a loud explosion of some kind from the concrete factory," Conrad advised, "so don't get too spooked."
Morgan went in to bed in a room in the back. She was so tired that she didn't hear an explosion of any kind.
The next morning she woke up and stared out the window at all that red dirt. "This is the Elephants' Graveyard," she told herself, "the place where the elephants go to die."
Her father had already left the house, but had left a set of instructions on the table. Oh, Pops...don't you ever eat anything that isn't an insta-meal? Don't you eat real food?
The one useful thing that Pops did leave were the keys to an old Kawanishi flybike in a shed in back. After getting dressed, she found that it did have working batteries and did start. Her mother would have killed her for riding one of these things back in Syracuse.
I want to see Olympica City, she thought. And not just a tour around Olympus Mons that they give to the tourists. I want to see the city. She found a pair of goggles and was off like a shot across the bright red soil.
Soon young Morgan was on her way up the Bradbury Turnpike into the city. The sun glistened off of the sheets of ice on the nearby canal as she rode; there was still enough of the Martian winter left to see the ice schooners and barge traffic going up and down the river of ice. To her north in the distance through the hazy morning was Olympus Mons - at nearly 20 kilometers high, it was the tallest mountain in the solar system. In the morning sky she got a beautiful view of Mars' two tiny moons in nearly the same place in the sky - they both actually move in two different directions at very different speeds.
Phobos and Deimos, she thought, what a great fracking Earth name for your two moons - Panic and Dread. Those old science nerds had quite a sense of humor. It's where we get our word for phobia and the Roman word for formidable.
Morgan laughed with joy as she tore around several hovertrucks. She could now finally see what actually looked like a city; it reminded her of what Las Vegas looked like as you approached it from the south - nothing but desert, and then a city appears out of nowhere.
As she got close to the downtown, she got a message on her wrist computer. At the nearest stoplight, she got a chance to check out the message. Morgan's father needed a crystal modulator for a laser borer from a hardware store; he was even efficient enough to include a map in the message - Canal at Phobos, next to the Lucky Starr Cafe. What better do I have to do?
She parked outside of the store, and walked in. She found the young clerk bogged down in an argument with a native Martian girl. It became clear that the issue was the ineptitude of the clerk with his computer system. The girl, a teenager like herself, was getting more upset as the minutes drug by.
"Could we get going?" Morgan blurted out. "I don't have all day."
"You'll get your turn, young woman." The clerk continued struggling with the computer. "Darn thing is jammed up again."
"Is that an Oracle 155 system?" Morgan asked.
"What?" The man looked up.
"Did I stutter? Did I not speak English? Is that an Oracle 155?"
"Then hit pound - star - 5." He looked up at her. "Don't gawk at me...just do it."
He grumbled as he typed in the keys. His eyes got wide. "How did you know to do that?"
"It's a Hyperion series of software - that's the miracle cure. I learned that in high school. The other thing that's obviously messing you up is that you're not doing your inventories properly...you're shooting off your nose to spite your face when you overload it with commands."
He got an angry look. "What are you...some kind of bureaucrat or something? You're nothing but a punk-ass teenager."
"I could be a better bureaucrat than you any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Now could we take care of this gal here so I can get my father's part?"
As soon as Morgan walked out with her part, she was cornered by the Martian girl.
"You were really something in there, eh? You could make a good bureaucrat sometime - you ought to go off to their school for training."
"I have no intentions of becoming a bureaucrat; my mother is already grooming me for med school at Syracuse. She'd kill me if I showed up in one of those gray cadet uniforms for bureaucrat training."
"I don't want to argue with your mama, but you were great in there..."
"He was a buffoon, but I didn't mean to eat his lunch for him like that. I just can't stand it when someone is so incompetent in a job. Either get the skills, or find something else to do."
"You're an Earther...new here, eh? I'm Jing. Good to meet you."
The girl chuckled and smiled with pride. "I'm JingShaTanga'Qua. Most Earth types can't pronounce my name...it's better off to just tell them Jing. They can't screw that in much."
Morgan looked confused. "Don't you mean screw it up? Anyway, I'm Morgan Proctor...and yes, I'm quite new here."
Her eyes got wide. "A Proctor - I know you're papa. He's gettin' ready to be screwed on big time by the Wongs."
"Don't you mean, 'screwed over?'"
"What do you mean? Who are the Wongs? Is that some sort of weird gang here?"
"Baby sister, everyone on Mars knows about it. The Wong family owns nearly everything around here. You're papa is trying to buy a piece of land on the east side of town with a mine. The only problem is that Leo Wong wants it as well - you can't go against him dollar for dollar...it's foolish to try. I hate to dump this into your lap like this, but everyone here knows it."
"Oh, crud...that means Pops has got another one of his get-rich-quick schemes going. But why is it so bad for him to buy a mine?"
"It's played out...all of our people know that. Your dad believes in his heart that he can find another vein in there. He's got a heart of gold and he cares about our people, but he's gonna get burned in the end. Old Man Wong just wants the land for a casino, and he doesn't care how he gets it."
Morgan shook her head. "Here we go again."
"You've seen him do this sort of thing before, eh?"
"Yes...my mother nearly killed him a few times for it. Always a brainy scheme...it's always going to be this time that he makes it. And it always ends up falling down like a house of cards."
Jing got that smile back on her face. "Hey, I know...why don't we grab a spice coffee at Starbugs downtown here?"
"Sounds like a plan...then I've got to run this part out to Dad."
The next day Morgan repeated her journey into Olympica City on the flybike. She wanted to roam around the downtown, and found a convenient place to park next to St. Claudette's Catholic Church. She looked up at the ancient building, which was hewn out of black volcanic stone - this was some of the only building material around. She tried to decide if it was beautiful or hideously ugly, cocking her head as she looked up at it. She then looked at the white statue out in front. Claudette...a typical saint in our faith, she thought. The gal got hacked to pieces here on this chunk of red rock for what she believed in. She didn't think much about religion; church was just another place that her mother drug her off to.
"Mass is in a half an hour if you're interested," a voice from behind her said, "I think it's going to be a thin crowd today. You are catholic, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm catholic." Morgan turned around. "I'm just parking my bike here...that's okay, isn't it?"
"I've got no problems with it. I'm Father Tom, by the way."
Morgan sized him up as she shook his hand. "You're British, but not from London. Northern...maybe Manchester. Your accent is also mixed in with a bit of Martian..."
"Not bad...Sheffield, actually. And I hear a tiny bit of East Coast in yours, but not quite New New York. Maybe up near Lake Erie. Pennsylvania?"
"Syracuse, to be exact. That was actually quite good. My name is Morgan Proctor."
"Oh, I know your father. He comes in to mass every once in a while."
"Not you too. I guess I'm officially a pariah around here - guilt by association."
"It's no sin to have a father fall on hard times, Miss Morgan; he's not a bad-un. I highly doubt that you're going to be the pariah of Olympica City. By the way...any idea of what you're going to school for? Your father and I have chatted a bit."
"I don't have a clue at this point. My mother wants me to go to Syracuse...to be a doctor. My father would probably have me join him in some kind of crazy business venture here. Mother will get her way - she always does. I'll spend the rest of my days looking at tonsils and shoving a tongue depressor down people's throats."
"Don't worry - you've got a little bit of time. I'll just make one more pitch for mass and then cut you loose, yes?"
"You drive a hard bargain...I may take you up on that sometime. Have a good afternoon."
Father Tom waved and made his way back into the church.
Jing was waiting for her down the block, and smiling as usual. "I wondered where you parked - it's always free to park over by the God Box."
"The God Box? Who calls it that? I've heard Space Marines use that term; the same grunts that call their beer 'horse piss' and their medals 'chest-candy.'"
"Well, all of us Martians do. You guys from Earth keep your God in a box in there."
Morgan chuckled. "We don't keep God in a box...those are communion wafers. And they've got to be put somewhere, so why not in a box? It's obvious you're not a Catholic."
Jing shook her head. "By the Goddess, I still don't understand the way you Earthers believe." Jing then smiled again. "Hey - you've got your hair up in a bun...I like it."
"Mom wears it up like this - I'll probably end up looking like her; next thing you know I'll be wearing the same reading glasses she does. Anyway, what's on the agenda for today?"
"I got a real adventure planned for us today."
"I'm almost scared...what have you got in mind?"
"I've got us an ice rigger for the afternoon; I threatened to beat my brother up if he didn't let us use it."
"You know how to ride one of those things? I've always been curious about them."
Jing swelled her chest with pride. "Just like a 10th level Ice Master, Little Sister."
Morgan chuckled. "I'll take your word for it. But if you get me killed, I'll never speak to you again."
"No one's dying today...you'll see."
When the two girls got to the edge of the canal, Jing's brother was waiting for them. He waved. "Maleeka. You must be Jing's newest victim - the others didn't survive. I'll let your next-of-kin know what happened when you don't come back."
"Just shut your pie hole, baby brother. Is she ready to go?"
"As ready as she'll ever be. Just bring her back in one piece."
"Do I ever not bring her back in one piece? You patunka..."
The two carried the small craft on to the thick ice of the canal, and Morgan climbed on board; it looked much like a small sailboat sitting on ice skids. It had a mainsail and a jib, just like a sailboat back on Earth. Jing gave it a shove and climbed on, and soon it was gliding along noisily toward the southwest. Young Morgan really enjoyed the icy breezes flowing past her face. It was a beautiful sunny day, as most days on Mars were - unless a winter storm or a sandstorm was coming in. Morgan enjoyed the times when it would just rain, like back in Syracuse...Mars just twisted her mind like a pretzel. When the rainstorms would come, they could bring terrible weather with them.
As they started cruising down the canal, the craft's speed picked up. "Wow," Morgan commented, "she's going really fast."
"We're only going about 60 kilometers an hour."
Soon the small craft was quickly gaining on a large ice barge; Morgan could see the gap between the two vehicles closing rapidly. "Jing..."
"I see it, Little Sister."
Jing skillfully gave the craft enough rudder to skirt around the huge barge; one of its crewmembers gave some sort of gesture with his hands and shouted something in Martian.
By now both girls were laughing. "Boy, was he pissed," said Morgan. She then glanced around. "We've left the city!"
"Of course we have. I planned it that way. You're not afraid of a little adventure, are you? You're 16 Earth years old."
"It's just that Pops will lay into me if I'm gone all evening, that's all."
"Your Pops is an okay decent bloke. My dad has known him for a while. He'll understand."
Morgan went back to enjoying the chilly breezes. She gazed out to the southwest at the beautiful red and orange hues mixing with the afternoon sun. As scenic as this was, it didn't look quite right. "Jing," she shouted, "I don't know much about Mars, but that looks like a sandstorm."
"I see it, Little Sister - let me get turned around."
By the time the two girls got back to the downtown, they were covered in red dirt and gravel. It wasn't a bad storm, as those things go - just enough to get them filthy. As they walked into the Starbugs, they were still spitting out tiny particles of rock and sand. The dirt was in their hair, in their ears and noses.
Jing looked at her friend with that infectious smile - she could be thrown into a den of sandtigers and she would still come out with a million dollar grin on her face. "Why do you look so grumpy, sister?"
"I've got sand in my hair, in my clothes...I can still taste it in my mouth. No offense, but I hate this place! I never had to deal with this stuff in Syracuse." Morgan went back to shaking the large particles of sand out of her hair.
Next to her in the cafe a young, chubby Chinese girl chuckled. Morgan stopped what she was doing and glared at her. "And who jerked your chain?"
"You must have gotten stuck in the storm," the girl quipped.
Morgan's eyes now burned with anger. "So?"
The Chinese girl chuckled again. "Shen jing bing...Shă guă! You even had a Martian guide with you, and you still got caught in the storm...that's hilarious!"
This time Jing had taken notice of the conversation; her ever-present smile quickly melted away. "I am her friend and not a guide, Chubby. I could smack the crap out of you right here. Let's get this straight - I'm not a guide for an Earther, little Miss Wong."
"Wait a minute," Morgan interrupted, "Who is this?"
"I know this brat. She's Daddy Wong's little girl - they live on that huge ranch."
Morgan now seethed in anger. "You're the daughter of the man who's trying to screw my pops over in that shady land deal. Maybe the both of us should take you out and whip the stuffing out of you - it would make me feel better."
By this time Mr. B had come over to see what was going on with his customers. "No one's going to beat up anyone in my cafe, eh? I've already got to sweep up the dust from you guys off of my floor...now enjoy your lattés and behave."
The Wong girl began to protest. "But my daddy..."
"Little girl, I know your daddy well - I helped him get his start in business here. Now I'll fill all your cups up, but I expect all of you to behave. Eh?"
The three girls shook their heads in agreement.
"Ah, very good. The idea of the two of you beating up a 10-year old. I'll be right back with your lattés."
The Chinese girl looked down at her coffee cup. "I'm sorry about your dad...I have nothing to do with that. I think the whole deal is unfair anyway. And I'm sorry I laughed at you."
The smile returned to Jing's face. "See? We won't have to beat her up now, eh? I'm sorry for calling you 'Chubby.' I'm Jing - people just call me Jing, because they can't pronounce my bloody name. My friend here is Morgan Proctor, soon to be the next Bureaucrat General of Earth. She's double-tough smart."
"Oh, stop that Jing. Hello." Morgan reluctantly offered her hand in friendship - the girl did the same. "I don't normally threaten people either."
The girl managed a smile. "I'm Amy Wong."
Jing grinned. "We now have a band of three adventurers! We'll conquer the Red Planet together."
Mr. B returned with the coffees. "Now look at this, eh...now we have a group of friends; there is nothing better on Mars than turning an enemy into a friend. In my shop, no less. May you three have many adventures together..."
Conrad Proctor was busy working with his computer when Morgan came walking in, moving files around with his fingers in the air. He briefly turned. "Where in the hell have you been?"
"I should have called...I know."
"You're covered in dust...you got caught in the storm?"
"Kem-Toong! You too? Yes, I got caught in the storm. On the canal...with Jing."
He let loose with that deep laugh that he was known for. "You're at least beginning to swear like a native Martian. So, you and Jing are now buddies...how is she doing, anyway?"
"You know her...the apocalypse could hit, and she'd find something in it that would make her laugh."
"Oh, you got a message from the Bureaucracy. Are you really thinking of becoming a bureaucrat?"
"Well, at least it would be a steady job." She heard her father take a deep breath. "Oh, Pops...I heard about the mine today..."
Conrad turned off his computer, and the holo images vanished. "I am so sorry for putting you kids through this. And your mother..."
"I know you've tried..."
"You're disappointed...and I understand that. But I swear I've got a plan - if you'll just hang in there..."
Morgan stared at him with the saddest eyes. "Daddy...no. Please...just don't start again. Just hold on to that fracking job repairing the laser borers...you can at least keep the house. That car out there and the house are all you have on this God-forsaken dust ball."
Conrad rubbed his beard. "For you, Kitten, I would do that. At least for the summer. But I swear to you that I've got a scheme going - you won't be disappointed in me."
"You know I'll still love you, no matter what happens." Morgan Proctor couldn't even look her father in the eyes. "I'm just going to take an insta-meal back in my room."
The next day found Morgan looking for another adventure. She took her bike into town, and one of Jing's buddies told her that she was ice fishing on a nearby canal.
As Morgan pulled up on her bike, she spotted her friend arguing with a man out on the ice. Morgan walked up to see what the problem was.
"What's going on here?"
"Will you tell this Earther squalakonk to get moving off of my fishing spot?"
Morgan told the man, "She does fish here...she just needs you to move over."
The young man tossed his long hair aside and turned to face Morgan. "I'm trying to protect the planet, man. This young woman and her friends are fishing the slerng fish to extinction. Someone has got to stand up for it - it's one of God's majestic creatures."
"You're not from here are you?" Morgan asked as she placed her hands on her hips.
"He's a podunka Earther...no offense, Morgan."
Morgan held up her hand to quiet Jing down. "You need to do your research, mister..."
"Waterfall...I'm Free Waterfall Junior."
"Mister Waterfall. First off, the purple slerng fish was created in a lab to be bred here on Mars, so it hardly counts as one of 'God's majestic creatures.' Secondly, Jing's native people are pretty good about conserving the species. I'd suggest going after some of Leo Wong's construction projects if you want to take up a cause."
"You're pretty smart for your age. What's your name?"
"Morgan. Morgan Proctor."
"Hey - I know your dad from the mines. You and your father are some of the only people on this planet that have given me any straight answers since I've been here." He collected his backpack and left. "See you around, Morgan."
"Not here, Earther...not on my fishing spot!" Jing shook her fist.
"Jing...just let him go. He's not a bad guy, just not very well informed." She watched him in the distance. As he walked away, she bit her knuckle and let out a soft giggle. This drew an annoyed look from Jing.
"Hey - I know that look. You don't actually like that podunka, do you?"
"But he's cute - I could just eat him up. He's such a...dirty boy...he's dreamy."
Jing growled. "Yeah, he'll get eaten by something someday...probably an Omicronian."
"Now - what were you going to show me about ice fishing?"
The next day found Morgan teaming up with Jing for another adventure. Amy Wong begged to go along, and Jing found no way of ditching her. Jing took them up into the Tharsis foothills to hunt for a sandtiger; she borrowed her father's gyroc rifle and took it with her. As they got into position on a small ridge, she loaded a rocket round into the weapon.
"It's cold up here," Amy complained.
Jing turned around to the youth. "If you want to complain, you can just get your Earth butt back on that airbike and head home. Now quit griping."
"Are we really going to see one of these things?" asked Morgan in a whisper.
Jing poked her in the shoulder and pointed. Sure enough, they were just a few dozen meters from a real live sandtiger. Morgan's eyes got wide as Jing readied her weapon; she felt like running away in panic, but she was fascinated by the sight. The animal was large and muscular, similar to the ones that she'd seen in zoos on Earth, but colored in that dark rust red of the Martian soil. Jing really was able and willing to dispatch the beast - it wasn't just a brag on behalf of her people. She aimed, took the slack out of the trigger, and waited for that optimum shot. Suddenly she could hear music coming from Amy's wrist thingee, and the cat ran off. She turned back to Amy and erupted into anger.
"You stupid bash-brain! He was nearly 5 hands wide, and I had him! I had him!! I would have had the bragging rights over my brothers forever!" She lowered the weapon and shook her fist at the young Chinese girl. "By the Goddess, I could clobber you!! We won't see another one all afternoon, you azetak!"
Morgan could see a look of concern on Amy's face and held up a hand to stop Jing. "Wait up - this looks important..."
Amy looked up from her wrist thingee into Morgan's eyes. "Dad and Mom are squaring off with your dad at the mine..."
Morgan stood up. "We need to get back...this was so sudden."
"What are you doing? Where are you going?"
Morgan extended a hand. "Jing - Big Sister, I need your help on this one. Are you with me?"
Jing secured her rifle, and softened her tone. "You betcha - I'm with you double-tough, Little Sister." The three of them climbed on their fly bikes and roared across the red sands toward the mine.
As the three arrived at the mine, they gazed out at the crowd assembled near the entrance. Several of Jing's people were there, and standing with them was Free Waterfall Jr. and Father Tom from the church in town. Conrad Proctor was talking with a young man from the Bureaucracy in a snappy uniform. Construction workers stood around, anxious to get started with their jobs. Conrad yelled over to his daughter. "Baby, what are you doing here?"
"What do you mean, what am I doing here? I'm here to stand with you."
He shook his head. "Always the stubborn Leo girl..."
Father Tom nodded. "That's a good kid you have there, Conrad."
"Yeah...stubborn as hell; never did listen."
Angrily, Jing sat down in front of the bulldozer near the entrance to the mine; she crossed her arms in defiance. "Morgan - is this how you Earthers do it back home?" She chuckled. "Fight the power, damnit...fight the powers that be!"
Leo Wong fumed at her. "Young lady, you get out of way!!"
"I'm sitting here until hell freezes up!"
Morgan corrected her. "I think you mean, when hell freezes over. Mr. Wong, why don't you just listen to my father's side of things...these people have been mining here for years."
"I no listen anymore. You are standing in the way of my business! Get out of way!"
"These people just want to give the mine a chance; they just want to get what little there is left out of it. If it doesn't work out, we can always just sell the land back to you."
Inez Wong spat something in Chinese at her.
Morgan got angry. "What was that? What did she just say to me?"
"She call you 'tiger-woman.' That a woman in China that make trouble, chew people up."
"Take that back, damn it!" Morgan paused. "On second thought, don't take that back - I'll wear the title...and wear it proudly. I'll be that 'tiger-woman' you talk about, and I'll tear a chunk out of your ass...you'll see."
"No one is going to chew anybody up today," said Conrad as he walked up with the bureaucrat. "Leo here has won - I'm not going to fight him."
"Honey, you were right all along...the best thing I can do is hold onto my repair job. And my car, and my house. Leo has won here today." He then handed the computer pad over to Morgan. "I just signed over the mine to him."
Morgan just sat there crestfallen as her father went over to talk with his native Martian friends. Jing stood up and brushed herself off. "We're not fighting the Wongs?" she asked.
"Not today," said Conrad. "Not today. How are you supposed to fight a bureaucracy anyway?"
Morgan then looked over the computer pad. She curled up her face as she read through the document thoroughly. In a strange moment, she then smiled and chuckled. "Father, that's where you're wrong. You can fight a bureaucracy...with more bureaucracy."
"I'll be needing that back," the young bureaucrat told Morgan. "I'm Leon Horvath, your father's caseworker. You can look over the details of this in our office next week."
The teenager raised her index finger to silence him without looking up. "Not so fast, bucko. I'm looking over the details of this right now. In a word, Mr. Horvath, you screwed up."
"I didn't screw up. Where did I screw up?"
Morgan then handed the pad back to him. "You had two spelling errors in this - you might have cleaned this up before submitting it. It's a little something we call a pride issue."
The young man was gob-smacked. "There were no spelling errors in this..."
"Yes there were." Morgan pointed at the two words. "Expediency is a fairly simple word, and you shouldn't have gotten it wrong. Look Buster, if you are going to slam my father's fingers in the door, not to mention playing crony with a business tycoon, at least have the damned decency to file a proper report."
"So I've got spelling errors. What else is wrong with it?"
Morgan looked up and saw her friend Jing sitting on a pile of volcanic rocks; she could see writing on a larger rock in the front of the pile. "Jing," she said, "what exactly is that you're sitting on?"
"What, this? This is just an old shrine."
"But what is that writing on the stone in front?"
She turned around to read it. "It's a burial shrine to one of the Demon King's royal family."
"Then it's tribal land."
"Of course it's tribal land," said Jing, "at least part of it."
"And it just happens to sit right next to the entrance of the mine; ergo, the entrance is considered the property of the Native Martians."
"So?" asked Horvath. "What does any of this mean?"
Morgan Proctor burned her brown eyes into Horvath. "Oh you're slick. You are really slick. This is tribal land. Leo Wong here might own half of the planet, but he doesn't own this part of it - yet. He still has to buy it outright from the Native Martians, which he hasn't done. This land never belonged to the town council - he can't just step in and take possession without going to tribal council and buying it. Your report here specifies that it belongs to Olympica City. You were just going to zoom this by everybody and hope that they didn't notice."
"That's nonsense - you're just a school kid...how can you possibly interfere in a business deal like this?"
"And you're the bureaucrat...and you officially filed the paperwork with the bureaucracy. This business deal was null and void ab initio, from the beginning. If and when the mine fails, my father and the Native Martians can sell the land to Leo Wong here for a decent price, and he can build whatever he wants on it...a casino, a dog kennel, a brothel, I don't give a damn. Then it will at least be a legal business deal. This whole thing is a crappy bill of goods, mister...and it won't stand up in any court. You knowingly aided and abetted this man in an illicit business contract - and I'm going to hold you accountable. "
The young bureaucrat just stood there speechless.
"Is this true?" asked Leo Wong. "There is no way that this can be true!" He again pointed to Morgan. "Inez was right - you nothing but a tiger-woman!"
The teen stared at him. "Like I told you before, I'll wear the title proudly. And you've just let that tiger out of its cage, mister - and who knows who I'll maul next." She mockingly made a clawing motion with her hand.
He threw his cowboy hat on the ground and stomped off; he then turned to his daughter and grabbed her hand. "Amy...you come with me! You no speak to that huàidàn anymore! Or her stupid friend!" Amy looked back sadly at her two new-found friends as she was dragged along, fearing that she might never see them again. You're wrong Daddy, Amy thought, she's not a 'bad egg.'
The young bureaucrat just stood there. As Morgan turned to join her father, he stopped her. "Miss Proctor, how could you possibly have pulled this off? You're nothing but a high school kid."
She turned to address him. "I may be still in high school, but I make darn good marks buster. Dura lex, sed lex."
She frowned. "Mister, I'm surprised at you. It means 'the law is hard, but it is the law.'"
"Young lady," he said, pulling out a business card, "they always ask us to recruit when and where we can. Look us up when you get out of school. You might be just what we're looking for in a bureaucrat."
Morgan Proctor accepted the card and looked at it; she then looked up into his eyes. "When I do," she told him, "you'd better look out."
Free Waterfall Jr. lowered his protest sign. "I'll bet you had your hands full with that girl, Mr. P."
"Stubborn," Conrad said with a smile as he put his hand on her shoulder, "never would listen to her mother or I."
"Now there is a real tiger-woman," added Father Tom.
Morgan Proctor continued to admire her Mars rock, tossing it up in her hand. She then looked over at a small figurine of a Bengal tiger on her desk that her father had bought her in Indonesia. As she walked through the department, she stopped by a desk of one of her workers. Tired, he ran his fingers through his gray hair.
"That was a nice report the other day, Mr. Horvath. Keep up the good work, and I'll see if I can promote you."
He looked up from his desk. "Thank you, Miss Proctor."