Petrova was still giggling after we had left the strange underground market.
"Is it far?" I asked getting tired of her amusement.
"Not really we just have to go a bit further down to the harbour."
"How comes that they did not build their village down there in the first place?"
"Because the water levels change quite dramatically depending on how much it rains. The terraformers try to keep the climate on the surface more or less constant and as the drains here are not supposed to be inhabited they tend to flood them whenever they need a water reservoir. So people mostly stay up-stairs where they won't get surprised by sudden floods."
"Doesn't this make the harbour down there somekind of death trap?"
"Nah. Glubina harbour floats on the water. It was built to withstand the floods as well as a place to set anchor."
I tried to imagine what that place looked like. I envisioned a lump of concrete spheres glued together, bobbing in the water with ships wedged into it at improbable angles. This thought entertained me while we moved closer to the great artificial river that flowed under all of the City yet well above Europa's surface. This part of the City which was in theory also a part of the human inhabitation zone, knew that it wasn't supposed to ever see any humans apart from depressive engineers demoted so far down the career ladder that they would never see the sky again. The tunnerls did not even try to look safe or even remotely sensible. What started as a smooth featureless corridor lighted by an endless line of those neon tubes, suddenly changed without into metal walkways wobbly stretching into impenetrable darkness. A darkness that was accentuated by tiny lamps barely managing to cough up enough photons to thinly cover the path they were supposed to guard. Then out of nowhere tubes and pipes and ducts of all kinds converged over the path providing anyone walking past them how it must feel to walk through the inside of a schizophrenic rope.
We had been walking through this graveyard of horror film sets for a while always moving a bit lower when we reached what seemed to be a large open platform on which stood several large stone structures. I could not quite decide if these were failed Up-Town art works that had failed to impress and where now doomed to be hidden here in the storm drains or if they fulfilled some vital life sustaining role. Below us I could just make out the glinting of watter and hear it bubble maliciously.
"Almost there." Petrova said. She pointed forward past one of the monuments. "The stairs to Glubin are behind that thing over there."
"It's pretty deserted here for a harbour."
"We aren't there yet. And most people that come here go directly to Glubin, they don't tend to stop and take in the sites. Don't worry you will see your share of scum soon enough."
And indeed we had not gone ten paces when a group of five men emerged from the shadows of the stone thing in front of us.
"I guess these man are not going to try to sell us souvenirs, are they?" I asked
"I don't think so. Just stay back and let me handle the situation." she made a 'stay here' gesture with her hand. I stopped standing behind or transport box determined to watch the show unfold. Petrova had advanced a few paces and stopped. She stood in front of the five alleged criminals feet apart and hands on her hips. For a short moment I thought that she might start a dance off. That hypothesis was quickly shattered when the 'leader' of the gang started negotiations by pulling out a knife that was mostly sharp edge with pointy saw bits on top. The man holding it was sporting a matching pointy hairdo but he did not seem to be able to hold up with his knife when it came to sharpness.
"Gives us your money." he came straight to the point.
"Or what?" as did Petrova who obviously had simply skipped the phase of diplomacy.
"Or we will hurt you and your wife over there." I decided to call him the Funny Man.
"Deal. You get our money, then you piss-off and we can go our way." Petrova was not quite hitting the victim notes correctly and Funny Man was not sure of how to react. He glanced nervously back to his four henchmen who looked as lost as he did. One of them mumbled in a threatening way. This seem to reassure their leader.
"That depends on how much C's you're carrying. Show us!" Petrova grabbed into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a bunch of Credit notes and some coins.
"Take it. It's all yours. Grisha! Give them your money, these guys are dangerous." I asked my self what a 'grisha'was and played along. I chose the pocket where I carried the least amount of money and made a nice nervous show of getting it out and ontop of the box.
"Here take the money but please... don't hurt us." I was not a good actor. I had lived long enough in the part of Old Town were the more discerning rats refused to enter to recognize Funny Man and the gang as the spineless bullies. The kind of scum that formed the very bottom of the criminal compost heap. But in our situation their characteristic mixture of cowardice and stupidity made them rather dangerous. While everything was still under control there was the risk of Funny Man or one of his cronies doing something stupid. Something that would lead to serious violence.
But so far things were going all right. Funny Man was quite happy with what he got from Petrova and was now approaching me and the box. He was even more delighted when he noticed that I had provided a bit over 100 Credits out of my small change to the loot. He waved his friends over leaving them with their back to Petrova. They all were quite pleased with themselves and it looked like they would get to walk away happily ever after leaving Petrova and me only slightly annoyed.
I knew that this would never happen the moment I saw what passed for a brilliant idea in Funny Man's world dawning in his blunt face.
"So..." he set up the stage to amaze the world with his wit "What's in the box?"
"Nothing." answered Petrova "Just books."
Funny Man made a face, half confusion half disgust. "Books? Why the fuck would anyone lug around so many books?"
"It's our trade. We buy and sell books." said Petrova.
I could see how Funny Man was trying very hard to be clever. He was putting together the amount of cash he just got and a treasure trove full of books, which while obviously something that only some egghead tosser would give a fuck about, were obviously worth a lot.
"I think we'll take the books too." this situation was not going to end well. The near miss had just upgraded to a car crash. A car crash eagerly looking for matches to add some fire and possible explosions to the show.
"Come on. You already have our money. That's what we made in the last two months. And the books are heavy," Petrova said, " you have to know who to sell them to and shit. If it was that easy to get rich with books everyone would do it." Petrova's logic seemed to work. The more Funny Man thought about it the less he liked the idea of having to drag around books.
"OK" and I could almost smell the odour of an igniting match when he started to smile, "we will just take the box then. It has some fancy gravity dampeners." he vaguely threatened me with the knife. "Open the box!"
I took a step back holding my hands up trying to think of a way, any way, to get out of this situation with out turning nasty. "Sure. What ever you say." I said.
I looked at Petrova. I saw her turning slowly to ice. The humour was leaving her eyes and her relaxed posture was slowly changing into something tightly wound. Her humanity was being expertly folded together and put away in some safe dark corner of her soul. There wasn't much time left until she had reverted into Petrova the soldier. When that happened five men would die.
I had to do something. I had had enough spontaneous murder for the time being. So I did the only thing that seemed like a sensible idea.
I pulled out out my gun, the targeting lasers blooming on Funny Man's torso.