tagSci-Fi & FantasyMurder on Capella Space Station

Murder on Capella Space Station

byErinaceous©

Author's foreword:

This is a stand-alone story (submitted for the Geek Pride event) set in the same narrative world as the story series, Every Man's Fantasy. The events occur about 15 years before the start of chapter 1 of Every Man's Fantasy and feature events in the earlier life of two characters from the series.

Erinaceous.

1 Murder on Capella Space Station

Arthur Jeffries smiled.

The report said 'murder'. Murder on Capella Space Station.

Arthur smiled because the idea was ridiculous. As the Constable of Capella Space Station, he was the only professional law officer on a jurisdiction known for its lack of crime. His incredulity at the report was understandable. It was also understandable (though less excusable) that he was excited because there would be a corpse, witnesses, clues and suspects.

In his two years as Constable, after five years on the beat in New York, one of Earth's over-populated crime-ridden cities, the most serious incidents Arthur had so far dealt with were drunken freighter crews fighting in the seedy pubs on the East Causeway.

Now there was a real crime to solve. And what a crime: the very worst. Murder! Its horror couldn't be properly appreciated until it occurred in a community that had never known a murder in the whole of its existence.

Commissioned ninety-eight years ago, in Earth-year 2441, Capella Space Station was forty-two light-years from Earth. On a complex orbit about the four stars of the Capella system, it looked like a giant gyroscope, with a spindle ten miles long and a wheel with four spokes three miles across, turning at a sedate pace to create an Earth-normal artificial gravitation for those on the inside edge of the great wheel's rim.

Most of the population of the station lived and worked on the rim, which was divided into four causeways. The West Causeway had posh shops and good hotels. The North Causeway had the homes of the permanent residents, a school and a hospital. The South Causeway had food halls and workshops for craftsmen who could repair any machine. The East Causeway had rowdy bars, casinos, pawn-brokers and brothels.

The East Causeway also had the police station, squeezed between a pawn-shop and a launderette, with Arthur's flat above. Despite the unwholesome reputation of the East Causeway, Capella Space Station was the most law-abiding place Arthur had ever lived. There were ten-thousand permanent residents: mechanics, shop-keepers, bankers, teachers, cooks, hydroponics farmers, gardeners and Entertainers (that is, prostitutes, who were legal, licensed and guaranteed disease-free).

There was also a transient population of space riggers, miners, freighter crews, military personnel on furlough and Planetary Prospectors (who risked their lives finding new planets for Earth to colonise). They all visited Capella for supplies, to look for work, to feel some gravitation (albeit artificial) underfoot or to gamble, drink, shop, trade and spend time with a friendly Entertainer.

Added to this diverse humanity were about a million settlers a year from Earth, who came to Capella to embark on giant hyperspace transports to distant planets. They spent their fortunes leaving an old, dirty and over-crowded planet for the chance of a new life in a pristine Outworld colony.

Now twenty-eight years old, Arthur Jeffries was of middle height, with an athletic build, a long face, fair hair, fleshy nose and naturally hangdog eyes. Wearing his clean and pressed police uniform proudly, with shiny shoes and shiny buttons on his tunic, he felt a thrill as he hopped onto the lift to the West Causeway and the Excelsior Hotel, in one of whose rooms was a corpse and a mystery to solve.

******

The dead man was called Ashmore Raleigh. He was well known as a rich and important industrialist. Born in America but with businesses across the Anglosphere, he lived mainly in the Caribbean with his wife and family. Raleigh was visiting Capella to start a long business trip to some Outworld colonies. He checked into the hotel with a female companion but the hotel didn't record her name and she wasn't in the hotel now.

The victim had severe bruising to his throat and ribs. Some of his ribs showed sharp edges through the skin, where they'd been broken. There was no other bruising or skin damage. Semen on the bed sheets showed that Raleigh was murdered in bed during or after having sex.

Arthur took photographs and bagged up the evidence, including a pair of skimpy women's panties and a bathroom towel with makeup stains. He released the body to orderlies of the space station's small hospital, where a doctor would verify the cause of death.

The evidence was ambiguous. Circumstantial evidence (the makeup stains, knickers and semen) made Arthur suspect the missing female companion, but Raleigh was fit and strong-looking. It would have been hard for a man his own strength to strangle him. There were no signs of a fight or any weapons. So how were his ribs broken? The breaks were where a woman's thighs might have been during sex in the missionary position.

When the video from the hotel lobby was relayed to Arthur's communicator, it showed Mr. Raleigh checking in with a young woman. Aged about eighteen or twenty, slender but curvy, elegant, amazingly good-looking, with deep-red chestnut hair, the woman wore a sombre knee-length brown dress and dark-grey high heels with ankle straps. Arthur doubted that this woman had the hand-strength to crush Raleigh's windpipe or the thigh strength to break his ribs.

The lobby video showed the same woman leaving the hotel alone about an hour later at 12.30. She was rushing and hadn't brushed her hair. It was possible that the death was an accident, after which she panicked.

A moment later there was a result from face-recognition. The woman was identified as Sharon Smith, aged nineteen, recently arrived from Earth, working as a licensed Entertainer and living on the East Causeway.

Arthur felt no need to hurry over to Sharon Smith's apartment to question her. If she was the culprit, then she would be on the run, though there was nowhere to run to on the space station. In any case, she would be found when she used her credit stick or her communicator.

Capella Space Station had strict privacy laws but, with a serious crime to investigate, the part-time Justice of the Peace granted Arthur a warrant to access Sharon's personal data. A licensed Entertainer would be easy to trace.

Arthur also requested to see video recordings from the businesses along the West Causeway. Shop-front video footage and street cameras might show where Sharon Smith had run to.

2 Coincidences

While Arthur waited for the videos to download and the doctor's report to arrive, he took the bag of evidence to a laboratory on the South Causeway for analysis. Then he returned to the police station because his communicator showed a message that someone was waiting for him.

It was three o'clock and his visitor had been waiting for some time. She was a woman in her middle twenties: middle height, middle weight with mid-brown hair of a middle length and mid-blue eyes. She was pale, homely and a little dowdy. A pointed chin and a ski-jump nose were the only distinctive features of her face. A handkerchief stuffed up the sleeve of her light-blue woollen cardigan reminded Arthur of one of his schoolteachers.

"Constable Jeffries?" the woman asked as he arrived at the station and opened the door to let her in.

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"My name is Mary Wetherall. I'd like to report a crime."

"Very well, Ma'am. What's the crime?"

"My suitcase was stolen. A woman bumped into me in the street, knocking me down. When I got up, I saw my suitcase was gone and that she was carrying it away. I chased after her but she was too quick and I lost her."

"Was there anything of value in the suitcase?"

"Yes, my spare clothes. What has their value got to do with it?"

"I have to prioritise my time, Ma'am. Although thefts are very rare here, if it's only clothes, which you can replace easily, then I have a more important crime to solve."

"More important? I arrived on Capella Space Station today to start a new job. Except for my suitcase, all my belongings are in a container in the docks. But before I could check into a hotel, the only spare clothes I have were stolen from me. Doubtless your lost puppy or jay-walker is important to you, but allow me to think my suitcase is important to me."

(Definitely a teacher, Arthur thought to himself.)

"I beg your pardon, Ma'am, your clothes are important to me, and I will certainly make them my priority after I've solved the murder that was committed about three hours ago."

"Murder?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

Mary was shocked. The frustration of waiting outside the police station had made her irritable. She was about to apologise for her brusque attitude when another young woman came into the police station with a bright happy step and a cheerful smile.

"Constable Jeffries?"

"Yes, Miss?" Arthur answered, staring at her.

"I've received a message on my communicator to say that face-recognition has been used on me, against my right to privacy. It told me to report it to the police, so here I am, reporting it."

The young woman was between eighteen and twenty, slender but also curvy, elegant and amazingly good-looking, with deep-red chestnut hair, large dark-green eyes, high cheekbones, a bow-shaped mouth, straight nose and a perfect complexion.

Arthur was still staring when Mary broke the silence.

"It's her!" she exclaimed. "The woman who stole my suitcase."

"What suitcase?" asked the girl.

"You know very well what suitcase. You knocked me over and ran off with it. Where is it? I want it back."

"I'm sorry about your suitcase, Ma'am, but I know nothing of it. What I want to know myself is why Constable Jeffries is staring at me with his mouth open."

That jogged Arthur back into the world.

"Excuse my staring, Miss. Can I ask you some questions?"

"Ask away, Constable."

"What's your name?"

"Hestia de L'Amour."

"Really?"

"Yes."

He typed with one finger on his desk keypad.

"No one of that name is currently on Capella."

"It's my professional name as an Entertainer. I recently changed it. Maybe your records are out of date," Hestia explained cheerfully.

"So what was your previous name?"

"Sharon Smith. You can see why I changed it."

"Second question: Is this you?"

Arthur projected the video from the hotel lobby camera onto a wall-screen opposite his desk. It showed Hestia entering the hotel with Ashmore Raleigh and rushing out an hour later.

"Well, bugger me!" Hestia said, showing her Northern English roots. "It certainly looks like me, but it's not me. I wouldn't wear a dress like that. Nice shoes, though."

The woman in the video dressed in a style as if she were about ten years older than Hestia, who was in a tight black jumper, black woollen stockings and a short red skirt.

"And look at her hair?" Hestia added. "I'd never leave a hotel room with my hair in a mess. Besides, I've only been here a month. I haven't had a customer in the Excelsior yet."

While the video played, Arthur surreptitiously manoeuvred himself between Hestia and the door, concealing a pair of handcuffs behind his back. When Hestia turned to him, he slipped the handcuffs over her delicate wrists.

"Ooh! Kinky!" she said with a laugh.

"What?" asked Arthur, feeling himself losing control of the situation.

"I charge double for bondage, you know."

Arthur asserted himself.

"Sharon Smith, I'm arresting you on suspicion of murdering Ashmore Raleigh in the Excelsior Hotel on the West Causeway between 11:30am and 12.30pm today."

"And stealing my suitcase!" Mary insisted.

Arthur plonked Hestia into a chair opposite his desk and set out his computer tab to make an official record of the arrest. Hestia made herself comfortable in the seat, more amused than offended.

"Between 11:30 and 12:30, you say? Then I can prove I wasn't there. Ask the barman at The Goat. Tom will vouch for me."

The Goat and Chariot pub, eight blocks clockwise on the East Causeway, was famous, as was Tom, the slow barman. It was a popular bar, though it was better to arrive after the evening staff started their shifts, or wait twenty minutes to be served. It was also where the prettiest Entertainers on Capella hung out, waiting for customers.

On the chance of avoiding detestable paperwork, Arthur placed the video call. Tom answered in his own sweet time.

"Yes?"

"Constable Jeffries here."

"What do you want?"

"Some civility first, and, secondly, do you know Hestia de L'Amour?"

"Never heard of her," Tom said and ended the video call.

Arthur stared at his communicator for a second in disbelief.

"He's a moron," Arthur said, shaking his head.

"Oh no, Tom's a sweetie. He's just being protective. Let me speak to him, please?"

Arthur opened the call again and held his communicator in front of Hestia.

"Tom, it's me," Hestia said gaily from her chair.

"Are you all right, Hestia? What's going on?"

"I'm fine. Constable Jeffries is being a gentleman (except for the handcuffs). You don't have to protect me. I'm not in trouble. You can tell him the truth."

"If you say so."

Arthur took the communicator and said to Tom:

"When was the last time you saw Hestia?"

"About 1pm today. She came into the pub at about 11 this morning and helped me set out the tables. ..."

"Helped you?" Hestia protested. "I did all the work!"

"... There wasn't much going on until 12," Tom blithely continued, "when customers started coming in. Hestia danced with a couple of men and left with one of them at about 1 o'clock."

"Did anyone else see her there?"

"Three or four of the girls, plus the bloke she went out with."

"All right, thanks."

"You can check the concierge in my apartment building, as well," Hestia cheerfully added. "She checked me in at 5 past 1 and out again at about 3. I came straight here."

"That's all right," Arthur said, undoing Hestia's handcuffs. "You're free to go."

"But it's definitely her," Mary insisted. "You saw the video. How can it be anyone else?"

"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but you're mistaken," Hestia said sweetly.

"I'm not mistaken. I'm a teacher!" Mary said, which was a non sequitur that made Hestia stare at her and Arthur smile, congratulating himself on making at least one valid deduction today.

"I mean that I'm trained to notice things," Mary explained. "If it wasn't you who stole my suitcase, then it was your doppelganger."

"And I think her doppelganger murdered Mr. Raleigh," Arthur added. "I can guess why she stole your suitcase, Miss Wetherall. She needed a change of clothes to evade the cameras. I don't think the killing was an accident at all."

3 Deputies

Arthur would have liked to be chasing down the suspect but the trail was cold even before he was alerted to the crime. He needed to see the West Causeway videos to know where the woman ran. While he waited for the videos and the doctor's report, Arthur brewed up a round of hot drinks. The three of them sat at his desk, sipping mugs of coffee and thinking over the puzzling crime.

"How come Miss de L'Amour has a doppelganger?" Mary asked.

"I've been pondering that question myself, Ma'am," Arthur said.

"Do you have an identical twin sister?" Mary asked Hestia.

"No."

"What about a clone?"

"Why would anyone clone a human being?"

"Could your identical twin have been adopted at birth?" Arthur asked.

"And ended up on the same small space station as me, when there are a hundred Homeworld colonies and a dozen Outworld colonies to choose from? It seems unlikely."

"All the world comes through Capella Space Station at some time, Miss," Arthur said.

"Constable Jeffries," Hestia queried: "Why do you call me 'Miss' and you call her 'Ma'am'?"

"I'm sorry. What should I call you?"

"Hestia."

"And you can call me Mary. We may as well be on first-name terms if we're going to be working together."

"What do you mean?" Arthur asked.

"I mean I'm joining your investigation. I want my suitcase back and I don't trust you to consider it a priority."

"Why would I take you with me?"

"Because you need my help. For some reason, you seem to be the only policeman here."

"There are six men who volunteer as deputies. I call on them as I need to."

"Six men? Can't women be deputies?" Hestia asked.

"They can but, so far, no woman has volunteered."

"Well, one has now," Mary said in a firm voice.

"Two," said Hestia, holding up two elegant fingers.

"It might be dangerous," Arthur cautioned. "The victim was strangled and his ribs were crushed."

These grisly details didn't put the women off, so Arthur swore them in as deputies. It was less trouble than the fuss they'd have made if he'd refused. Besides, three pairs of eyes were better than one when searching for a face in a crowd.

The doctor's report came in saying that Raleigh died of asphyxiation caused by a crushed windpipe. The only marks on his throat were from human hands whose size indicated a woman. With the shop videos downloaded at last, the three investigators left together to track the suspect, who dashed out of the Excelsior Hotel, bumped into Mary, stole her suitcase and disappeared somewhere on the West Causeway.

******

Arthur led the way to the lift that went straight up through the roof of the East Causeway into one of the spokes of the great wheel and across the spindle to the West Causeway. He pressed the button to summon a cubicle. Hestia hopped daintily onto the perspex cylinder and braced herself by linking an arm around the hand-rail, excited to be involved in a criminal investigation.

Mary and Arthur followed, but Mary was new to this form of travel and didn't hold on tightly. When the lift shot up toward the centre of the gyroscope, the reduction in artificial gravity and the Coriolis effect threw her off-balance.

Mary stumbled to her knees. Hestia bent to assist her but Arthur was oblivious, watching a shop video on his communicator.

"Chivalry is alive and well and its name is Arthur Jeffries," Hestia said.

"Umm, what?"

Then Arthur noticed.

"I'm sorry, Mary. I should have warned you."

He offered her his hand.

"I can manage," she said, but from then on Arthur remembered his manners and warned Mary of changes in gravitation, especially when the cubicle span around in the centre of the spindle, so they would descend to the West Causeway feet first. The three-mile journey took about five minutes. By the time they reached the West Causeway, Arthur had viewed enough of the videos to know that the woman ran anti-clockwise from outside the hotel and didn't double back.

The West Causeway, home to posh hotels, banks and expensive shops, was clean and bright under strong white artificial lights. There were flower baskets and small trees for ambience. The shoppers who strolled unhurried by were stylishly well-dressed.

Arthur started outside the hotel where Mary had been knocked down by pseudo-Hestia and followed the video trail of the woman along the causeway, leading his new deputies.

"What subject do you teach, Mary?" Hestia asked as she skipped along behind the Constable.

"Mathematics," Mary replied. "Do you really have sex with men for money?"

"Oh, yes," Hestia answered happily, completely unashamed.

"Why?"

"Because I'm no good at maths. ... I like your skirt. Is it Spontini?"

Under her frumpy light-blue cardigan, Mary had on a beautifully-cut knee-length pleated fawn skirt.

"It's a knockoff," she admitted. "I can't buy Madame Spontini on a teacher's salary."

"It's a good knockoff."

"I like your boots," Mary said in return, unable to resist Hestia's naturally cheerful charm.

Hestia did a spin as they walked, twirling up her short skirt to give a glimpse of bare thigh at the tops of her thick black stockings. She had amazing legs, long, lean and shapely. Her cute little ankle boots were shiny black leather, with laces and two silver buckles.

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