What would you do if you had to investigate a murder
you would gladly have committed yourself?
– Three Days Later –
Monday, 17 April 3324, 1:10 PM
A stately room. Black-lacquered cabinets flank a massive desk. Maps and oil paintings hang on pale green walls. Burgundy woodwork. Globe, grandfather clock, and fireplace with brass andirons cast in the shape of lions, teeth bared. A room steeped in the past. Except in the sunny east bay, where a closet-sized polyhedron floats a handsbreadth above the carpet.
Three men in sage-green uniforms will stare at the Vessel. One, a sneering rat of a man, will peer through the open hatch and see the sole of a boot.
“Is she dead?” he will ask, hopping closer to get a better look.
“Back off, snitch!” The man with the sentry’s insignia on sleeve of his beefy arm will step in front of the hatch and shove him back.
The snitch will stagger against the clock, but he has seen enough. He will grin as he straightens the curved blue half-shield that covers his forehead and eyes. “I knew she’d botch it. I told her—I warned her! Skank. Who’s a heap of dung now?”
A choking sound will escape the throat of the red-head at the comm. His mouth will work as he looks pleadingly at the sentry.
The sentry will shake his head and glance at the thing on the floor of the Vessel. “She’s gone. Torrified.” He will take a deep breath, hold it, then exhale explosively through clenched teeth. “Get the Marshall. Now!”
Blinking away his tears, the red-head will remove his comm-set with shaking hands and stumble away.
“Hey!” the snitch will cry. “That’s my job! I get to tell the Marshall, not you! Hey!” He will follow the red-head through the door and down the stairs beyond.
The sentry will wait for the tap of footsteps to fade, then squeeze through the hatch.
Above the console, the mission chronometer will show all zeros. The lower panel will be mangled, as if someone has bashed it in with a heavy object. He will glance at the pilot’s chair, unclamped and upside down.
He will kneel beside what is left of the body.
Except for the black pendant on its silver chain, pillowed in the ash that had been her neck, there will be nothing there to remind him of the woman he had known. He will ease the plasma gun from her holster and note that two bolts have been fired. His brow will furrow and his gaze will dart from the canted walls to the crumpled sage uniform. Then he will grunt and replace the gun.
“Thanks, Reb,” he will whisper.
The sound of running feet will remind him he has no business being in the Vessel.
He will clap the ashes from his hands as he rises. “I guess you got your wish.”