Ralph Connor pulled off the dusty
road and into the parking lot of the Half a Mo transport cafe. He chose a spot where he would have no difficulty in driving
out the nuclear powered Titan truck with its four trailers when he wanted to leave. As he parked the road train, he noted
three other trucks and a dust covered sedan parked close to the cafe.
“Darn place is getting popular
again,” he muttered to himself.
He waited while the cloud of red
Martian dust, disturbed by the passage of his vehicle, settled. He had been stopping at the transport cafe whenever he used
this road for over five years. When old Tom Biggley was the owner all the truckers used to stop for a rest and a meal prepared
by Daphne, Tom’s wife. Some would stay overnight and have a good hearty breakfast before moving on. Old Tom kept his
customers laughing with an endless stock of jokes and Daphne’s old-fashioned cooking had been voted the best on Mars
by those that ate there. No one knew how old Tom or Daphne was but it was common knowledge they had come Earth to Mars for
health reasons, the lighter gravity being the main attraction, and had built and maintained the transport cafe. Daphne died
a year ago and old Tom decided to sell up. The new owners, the Henderson’s, was quiet and not as sociable and most
truckers stopped using the café, preferring to continue a further two hundred kilometres to the next one.
Ralph eased his six foot two inch
brawny frame out of the driving cab and climbed down from his truck. After making the usual check of his tyres, he pressed
the remote that locked the doors, immobilised the power unit and activated the alarms. It would require an eight-digit code
to get into the truck if anyone attempted to steal it and another to start the power unit. Even on Mars, hijackers were always
on the watch for loaded trucks and his was crammed with the latest household goods and scientific equipment that could sell
on the black market and disappear in days if thieves got hold of it.
Satisfied all was in order, Ralph
walked toward the entrance of the café. As he approached, the garish sign flashed and flickered as coloured laser beams danced
over the facia advertising home cooking, Martian brewed beer and comfortable sleeping quarters. Popular trucker's music blared
from speakers attached to either side of the facia. The cheery sight and sounds had lured many a weary trucker after a long
and lonely day on the road.
Ralph pushed open the door and entered
the brightly-lit dining room and bar. Two truckers sharing a table and eating meals looked up. Recognising him as a fellow
trucker they acknowledged him by pointing at him and then striking their shoulder with their fist. Ralph returned the sign
with a grin. Experienced truckers had their own slang and sign language. One other trucker was trying his luck at a computer
gambling game and was too engrossed to notice him.
The kitchen door opened just as
he reached the counter and a girl he had never seen before emerged carrying a tray with a steaming meal on it. Ralph watched
with widening eyes as she took the meal to a table close to the gaming machine. Her slim, shapely body was encased in a purple
figure-hugging cat suit currently fashionable among the young girls on Mars and Earth. On her feet she wore black, calf-high,
skin tight boots. Ralph estimated her height to be about five foot ten. Jet-black,
wavy hair tumbled over her shoulders and back almost to her waist.
He glanced quickly at the two truckers
at the table. They were looking at him with big grins on their faces. One made a sign that clearly indicated what he would
like to do with the girl if given the chance. Ralph smiled and looked back at her.
“Can I help you?”
Ralph swung around at the sudden
question. Henderson, the new owner, had appeared and stood with hands on the counter. He was a tall, skinny man around fifty
years old. The shirt he wore went out of fashion two years ago and his shorts that should have clung to his thighs hung loose.
His clear, hazel eyes looked into Ralph’s unblinkingly.
“Yeah. I’ll have the
meal of the day and a room for the night.” Ralph saw the girl return with the tray empty and re-enter the kitchen.
Henderson tapped at a keyboard for a minute then turned back to Ralph.
“Cash or credit?” He
accepted the plastic card Ralph offered him, slipped it into a slot and typed some more on the keyboard.
“D’ya wanna drink while
“A Martian will be fine,”
replied Ralph, nodding.
“That’ll be 32 in advance.”
Henderson tapped at the keyboard again then held up a small screen with an amber light blinking.
Ralph pressed his thumb on the screen and the light turned to green. His credit was still good.
“Take any table ya want,”
said Henderson, handing back Ralph’s card and giving
him a Martian brewed beer. “Ya credit’s good so you can order more and pay when ya leave.”
If the light had remained amber,
it meant he was low on credit and Ralph would have to produce his credit card each time he ordered anything.
Ralph chose a table next to the
two truckers and sat down. The older of the two, a man with a paunch, brown hair greying at the temples and aged about fifty
nodded to him.
“Running heavy?” asked
“Axles dragging,” replied
“Semi-light.” The man
shrugged and shook his head negatively. Semi-light meant he didn’t even have half a load on his truck and that could
be costly for him if he didn’t get another load for the return trip to Mars
City. “He’s running heavy too,” he added, nodding toward
The other man was about thirty-two;
lean, lanky with fair hair. He grinned at Ralph revealing perfect teeth that were the whitest Ralph had seen on a male for
a long time.
“You got a dad?” he
“Connor. Ralph Connor. You?”
“Mick Hewitt. This is Ernie
Bridges,” he answered, pointing his fork at the older man. “What do ya think of…”
Mick stopped talking as the girl
in the cat suit came with Ralph’s meal on a tray. As she placed the knife, fork and spoon in front of him, Ralph saw
the cat suit was made of Cosmoslene, a very expensive woven fabric that stretched and shrank to perfectly fit any shaped body.
It clung to her like a second skin. He caught the scent of her perfume as she leaned over the table and he guessed that too,
was expensive although he knew nothing much about such things.
She placed his plate before him
and arranged the dishes of food then turned and looked at him.
“Is there anything else you
would like,” she asked. “Another beer?”
“Another beer would be good,”
he replied with a cheerful smile and looking into her eyes. They were deep brown. So dark a brown that one might even think
they were black. A slight frown briefly creased his brow as the girl left to get the drink. There was also something else
about her eyes. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
Mick after the girl had gone.
“What?” asked Ralph.
“What do ya think of her?”
Ralph nodded in approval. “Very
nice. Who is she? How long has she worked here?” He hadn’t been on this road in over a month and had not stopped
at the Half a Mo in more than three.
“Her name’s Basha. First
saw her here six weeks ago" answered Mick. He leered at Ralph and added, “Can ya just imagine being in bed with her?”
Ralph ignored the question. He had
no doubt that every trucker that saw her had the same thoughts. The girl probably knew it too. She couldn’t be more
than twenty-three but the sensuous way she walked gave Ralph the impression she was older.
“Did you notice anything about
her eyes?” he asked as he put a forkful of beefsteak into his mouth.
“Yeah. She’s got a purple
ring around them,” contributed Ernie. “Maybe contact lens. Purple suit with purple ring round her eyes to match.
“Purple lip paint, too,”
offered Mick, finishing his beer and pushing the empty glass away from him.
Basha returned with Ralph’s
beer then began clearing Ernie and Mick’s table. Ralph watched her from the corner of his eye. The fine material of
the cat suit revealed every curve of her body like it was purple body paint. If she was aware of the affect she had on the
three men, she didn’t show it as she wiped the table with a cloth.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“Bring them a beer each and
put it on my slate,” said Ralph. There were grunts of approval from both the other men. It wasn’t often a trucker
turned down a free drink and this occasion wasn’t one of them.
“Two beers or three?”
asked Basha turning to him. Ralph had a chance to look into her eyes again. Now he saw the deep purple ring around her irises.
They didn’t look like contact lens to him but he couldn’t be sure.
“Just the two for now, thanks.”
The three watched her carry the tray laden with soiled plates and dishes to the kitchen, calling to Henderson for two beers as she passed the counter. Ralph shook his head.
“She’s out of place
here,” he said. “That suit must’ve cost a few months of her salary. It’s made of Cosmoslene.”
Mick looked up at him and grinned.
“Yeah? I hadn’t noticed.”
“And the rest,” said
Ernie. “My daughter wanted to buy a top made of that stuff. When I checked the price, I told her when I made my first
million I’d but her one.” He chuckled as he recalled the incident.
“So what’s a waitress
in a transport café in the middle of a Martian desert doing wearing a suit like that for work?” insisted Ralph.
“Ya know?” Mick dropped
his voice to a whisper and leaned forward as if to confide in them. “I heard that Cosmoslene is so smooth and stretchable
“… You make love she
don’t need to take it off.” finished Ernie. “I’ve heard that too but I ain’t ever heard of anyone
trying it, though.”
Mick leaned back, his face showing
disappointment that Ernie already heard the rumour.
Basha returned with the two drinks
for Mick and Ernie; placing them on their table with her back to Ralph.
Mick gave her ass an affectionate
pat and she turned her head toward him. The smile on Mick’s face vanished and a momentary look of fear came into his
eyes. Basha then turned to Ralph and smiled.
“Will there be anything else
I can get you?” she asked as if nothing had happened.
Ralph shook his head. “No
thanks,” he replied. He waited until she had returned to the kitchen.
“What was that all about?”
he asked, looking at Mick.
“What?” asked Mick.
“When you touched her ass
you looked like you were gonna shit yourself.”
Mick laughed out loud. “Me
touch her ass? Don’t I wish?”
Ralph frowned and looked at Ernie
but he hadn’t seen anything. Maybe I imagined it, thought Ralph. He’d
had a long and tiring day.
“Forget it. I’m gonna
clean up.” He rose from the table, bid them a good night and went to his room.
Ralph spent the evening in his room writing his daily report and then watched an old documentary about
the hazards that faced the pioneers that first set up a base on Mars. The days when the air was too thin to breathe normally
and oxygen masks had to be worn constantly. During the early days of colonization, oxygen and food had to be brought to the
pioneers from Earth because Mars was a barren planet. Their difficulties in building the first dome that protected them from
the harsh environment. Then there were problems of beginning the hydroponics within the domes to provide food and oxygen.
The documentary was one of many that continually reminded the inhabitants of Mars of their heritage.
Ralph, as did many others that came to Mars during the two hundred years since those beginnings, viewed them as political
propaganda to keep the people from becoming disheartened and returning to Earth. It also served to make them feel proud of
being the first millennial Martians. He endured it merely because it was one he hadn’t seen before. By the time it had
finished he was ready for his bed and sleep.
Ernie and Mick were already in the dining room when Ralph arrived for breakfast. The other trucker
he had seen playing the gaming machine was at a table next to them sipping coffee and listening to something Mick was telling
Henderson emerged from the kitchen as Ralph approached the counter to order breakfast. He wore the same clothes as he did the
evening before. He went behind the counter, placing his hands on it in the same habitual pose and waited, unsmiling, for Ralph
“Breakfast?” asked Ralph.
Henderson pushed a menu toward him. “We’re out of eggs but got everythin’
Glancing quickly through the menu, Ralph chose synthetic cereals, imported bacon and hash browns, along
with Martian bread and coffee. He didn’t mind forgoing the eggs. Martian laid eggs were almost tasteless anyway.
“We got imported coffee if ya want,” said Henderson,
raising his eyebrows hopefully.
Ralph nodded. “Yeah. I’ll have that.” Anything
imported from Earth was three to five times more expensive but, unlike the Martian beer, it tasted so much better. He shoved
the menu back to Henderson then made his way over to the other
“Bright dawn, Ralph,” greeted Ernie. “Kip well?”
“Bright dawn all. Better than kipping in the truck, thanks, Ernie.” He nodded to Mick as
The trucker he hadn’t met pointed at him and struck his shoulder. “Bright dawn, roader,”
he said with a smile.
Ralph returned the sign to the trucker and gave him a friendly nod. “Ralph Connor. You got a
“Ashworth. Arnie,” replied the trucker.
Arnie was around forty years old. Like most truckers, his face was weathered through being in the open
for many hours a day for many years and his body toughened by the heavy lifting a truckers’ work entailed. Ralph judged
him to be about six foot tall give or take an inch.
“Going in or out?” asked Ralph.
“On the way in, roader. Axles dragging, too.” He looked very pleased with himself. It wasn’t
often a trucker got a full load on a return trip. The big loads were usually from Mars
City outward bound to the towns and settlements spread over the planet.
Ralph wondered what Arnie was hauling but didn’t ask. It was considered bad taste for a trucker
to ask another what he had in his truck. Sources of work were jealously guarded by truckers. It was also dangerous to reveal
such information to anyone. If hijackers found out a truck had a particularly valuable load, they wouldn’t hesitate
to kill the trucker for it and blast their way into the truck. The Martian Mafia was ruthless.
Henderson came to the table with Ralph’s breakfast.
“Where’s Basha?” asked Ralph of Henderson. He had expected to be served by the cat
suited beauty. He was rewarded with an unblinking stare from Henderson
before getting a reply.
“She ain’t here this morning.” Henderson
left before any of the truckers could ask him any more questions.
“I was wondering the same thing myself,” Mick announced looking around the dining room.
“This place is dead without her around.”
Ralph recalled the evening before when he saw Mick touch up Basha. He couldn’t help feeling that
something was not right. Apart from Basha being out of place working in the café, there was the fearful look on Mick’s
face and his denial of touching her. Henderson, although always
quiet and uninformative, was unusually sullen. Then there was Henderson’s
wife, Maggie. She usually made a point of greeting customers but Ralph hadn’t seen her at all although he had no doubt
she was working in the kitchen.
Ernie arose from the table gulping down the last of his coffee. “Gotta get moving, roaders,”
he said. “Time’s getting on.”
Mick also stood up. “I’ll keep ya company as far as the next fork unless you’re going
“I’m going out north but the company will be fine to the fork,” Ernie replied.
The men said their farewells, paid their bills and left. Minutes later the two road trains hummed out
of the parking lot leaving clouds of red dust in their wake. Ralph knew the rearmost truck would be dropping back several
hundred meters once on the road. When a road train got up to speed it caused a mini dust storm that made it impossible for
anyone following closer to see.
Ralph finished his breakfast, joining in the conversation with Arnie when he felt a comment was appropriate
and then announced that he had to be on his way.
“Yeah, me too,” replied Arnie. “Safe roading, Ralph.”
“You too,” said Ralph over his shoulder as he went to pay his bill. Minutes later Ralph
was on the road.