Murder in New Eden
by Charles C. Cole
Welcome to New Eden, an isolated city floating in space, whose founders believed the start of the 20th century was as good as it would ever get. Gun-free police supervise from atop their penny-farthings, carrying only batons. Aggression has been chemically suppressed for years. But then violence erupts. In response, the chief of police weighs the prospect of thawing secret soldiers. In the middle of it all, two bright young women push for equality and recognition.
Chapter 18: Fresh Recruits
The promenade is busy. The live orchestra is once more embracing “The Beautiful Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II. Women in afternoon dresses and men in seersucker suits lounge about on the artificial grass before the red Victorian bandstand. Tabitha, showing off for her audience, is waltzing with a five-year old boy on the lip of the stage. Lois is weeping again, with tears of relief.
The original six-man team is finally reunited: Warden, Randall, Abbott, Boyer, Maccario, and Cody. They stand clustered in their dress whites, self-conscious to be standing out among the gawking crowd. A few children seem tempted to ask about ice cream, but their wise parents hold them back. A couple of young women, perhaps inspired by Tabitha, pull Randall and Maccario away to dance.
Nakamura, Wayne, and Schiavelli stand about thirty feet away, giving the new faces their privacy, but near enough for moral support. Schiavelli, also, has dress whites on.
“I forgot I had these. Do I look distinctive or like a human marshmallow?”
“You could be Cody’s father,” teases Wayne.
“I just didn’t want him to feel he stood out.”
“You mean because he’s a total stranger or because he has a white uniform with no coffee stains on it?” Wayne points at a small stain near his belt.
“If you tuck it in, maybe nobody will notice,” adds Nakamura.
“If you two are going to pick on me, I might decide not to give you the good news.”
“There’s another vault of sleeping soldiers, only this time they’re all girls!” adds Wayne. “And they’re going to teach the men of this station how to treat women like equals.”
The chief is suddenly serious. “Do you really think that’s all it would take? Do you?”
“We can dream.”
“It would be a good start,” adds Nakamura.
“How about a different start?” He clears his throat. “I, Police Chief Leo Schiavelli, by the power invested in me by Mayor Willie Brandt, do hereby bestow upon Eartha Wayne and Lucy Nakamura all the rights and responsibilities allowed to them by law as full-time police officers of Satellite City New Eden.”
“Is this official?” asks Wayne. “Or are you play-acting?”
“If you say yes, it’s official.”
“Then I accept,” says Wayne.”
“I thought you would.”
“But only if I get to stay in my office, away from the boys.”
“And I get to stay in City Operations,” adds Nakamura, “for the same reason.”
“Fine. But why don’t you, do me a favor, cross-train a little, so if Wayne is out playing doctor, God help us, somebody can still oversee our forensics?’
“That’s a great idea!”
“Can I throw out a random question?” asks Nakamura.
“I suppose so.”
“What happened to Director Pelkey? I haven’t seen him around. It’s not like him to have such a low profile.”
“Well, since Officer Petrillo got promoted into Pelkey’s old position as our new director of communications, I gave Toby to Superintendent of Engineers Dominic Delumbria, to do with as he pleases.”
“It’s a loan. As far as Toby’s concerned, he’s my man on the inside, in case the ‘mayor’ of the underground city ever has eyes for the city aboveground.”
“He didn’t put up an argument?”
“Not at all. I think he was, subconsciously, looking for some space from Brandt. In his words, ‘a position where I can do the most good.’ It might be good for him, if he survives.”
Cody walks over. He’s dispirited. Nakamura slips an arm into his arm. The other soldiers are walking away from the festivities
“My guys think you have a great place here. Really great, except in the ways that it’s messed up. But they’ve decided to go back to cryosleep for now because this is not their world and there’s not enough to do for our particular skillset, with an open offer to return whenever needed.”
“Ouch!” says Wayne.
“And you?” asks Schiavelli. “Are you going with them?”
“If it’s all right with you, sir, I’d very much like to stay. I can continue my training and, at such time as you’re ready to bring out the small-arms, I think you’ll want someone who knows what they’re doing to offer instruction.”
“Do I need to be deputized?”
“Do you want to be?”
“Actually, I have my own uniform and my own corps. I would prefer to remain a liaison, if that’s all right.”
“Lastly, I was wondering...” He stumbles on his words.
“What is it?”
“Lucy Nakamura, may I have this dance?”
“Now that’s how it’s done,” says Wayne.
“Yes! Yes!” says Nakamura, pulling Cody closer to the music. “Chief?” asks Wayne.
“Fire away, Officer Wayne.”
“In the middle of the business with discovering Valdez, Petrillo said everyone knows I’m your favorite. Is that true?”
“Used to be.”
“Used to be? What happened?”
“Now, I’d say you’re pretty much tied, with Nakamura and Sergeant Cody.”
“I’m okay with that,” says Wayne.
* * *
Welcome to Satellite City New Eden. An isolated outpost, 30 miles in diameter, New Eden floats through the cosmos, cocooned inside an artificial atmosphere, having theoretically outdistanced itself from a once-violent past. Today the inhabitants enjoy mostly uninterrupted peace in the guise of early twentieth-century America.
* * *
At the always-busy water treatment plant, former New Eden Communications Director, Tobias “Toby” Pelkey, wearing a spotless white apron and khaki shirtsleeves neatly rolled up to just-below his elbows, stands restlessly before a wide electronic display of blinking white lights and fluctuating numbers, in the large glass-booth known as the Control Center. Why am I here?
Tempted and alone, Pelkey reaches for the last piece of fudge in a bowl on the desk. He picks it up, assesses it, and then changes his mind abruptly. Maybe, he thinks, it’s a test. He wipes his hands on the underside of his apron.
There’s a sign on the wall: “This plant has worked ‘7’ days without a lost-time accident.” He takes the sign down, clucking disapproval like a stern Sunday school teacher.
The elevator chimes and the doors open with a bright brief splash of light. Superintendent of Engineers Dominic Delumbria steps off. Delumbria is enormous, like the legendary bald strongman at a carnival. He even has to duck his head to step into the room. He wears black denim coveralls and carries an incongruous charcoal derby.
“Director Toby, you’re in my office,” says Delumbria, feigning surprise. “Spying for the chief of police, no doubt.”
Pelkey bristles at the accusation. “Actually, you invited me, or so I was told. I keep telling you, I’m not a director anymore, Dom. I’ve been voluntarily transferred.”
“I suspect the correct term is ‘cashiered’.”
“Potato or tomato, I’m just one of the guys now,” says Pelkey.
“And grateful as you can be that we have no prison to hold you for your recent quaint act of sedition.”
“Look, I’m only guilty of impatience. If that’s a crime, then lock me up and throw away the key.”
“Perhaps a little more than that,” responds Delumbria, “if rumor is to be believed.”
“Blame Dr. Valdez for injecting me with delusions of grandeur. That pharmaceutical witch doctor could make a preacher proselytize for the anti-Christ. Take my word for it. ”
“A murdered, formerly-respected medicine man who can’t defend himself? I’ll do that.”
“With all due respect, did you call me here to taunt me for your own amusement?”
“Let me ask you something. You’re a smart guy,” says Delumbria. “This is not a hard question. Am I in charge down here?”
“Based on the size of your office, not to mention the confident and dapper behemoth before me, I’d have to say, yes, of course, you are.”
“The mayor of all you’ve seen and others you can only imagine? At least as much territory as Mayor Willie has up above.”
“Except nobody voted for you,” says Pelkey.
“A mere technicality which I choose to overlook.”
“That’s one way to unsee it.”
“With as much power as Mayor B. wields upstairs,” concludes Delumbria.
“Probably more. No argument there.”
“So, if I say you’re the director of communications, then you’re still the director of communications. You’re my director. I’ve never had a director of communications. Nobody ever offered me one before. I kind of like it. An unexpected treat in recognition of my extensive service to this establishment. I also like that you used to be Mayor Willie’s and now you’re Mayor Mine. Catch.” He tosses his derby across the room.
Pelkey drops it onto the desk as if it’s sticky or steaming hot. “You’ve always had a way with words. I don’t know why you need me.”
Delumbria pretends to give up by way of sharing a grim future. “I mean, if you’d rather I should put you on some repair team down in the dangerous dark, behind some dripping pipes where very bad things have been known to happen to very good people...”
Pelkey quickly acquiesces. “Not necessary. You’ve convinced me, Dom. I might as well put my vast past experience to work with a new team, somebody who wants me and has needs of my talents.”
“Exactly!” says Delumbria, with a single celebratory clap. “That’s why I called for you.” He reaches across his desk for an agreement-sealing handshake. Pelkey accepts, losing his hand inside Delumbria’s large warm paw.
“Whatever I can do to contribute.”
“Good. Let’s start. Have a seat, my man.”
Pelkey does as he’s told; the debate is over and he’s lost. Delumbria glances at his delicious “untouched” fudge with a demonstrative sniff but says nothing. Good for him, he thinks. He passed the test.
“See how easy it is to agree with me when you know it’s the best thing for you. Now, flex those cranial muscles and come up with a speech-to-the-masses for me, something I can blast through the PA system, short and transformative, about how this isn’t such a bad place to work with the right tools, ‘hard labor is its own reward’, and mention how I’m a compassionate boss who worked his way up through the ranks.”
“Did you? I didn’t know.”
“If you don’t know, they’re not going to know.”
Pelkey laughs cynically, deep in his throat. “Sure. I’m on it. I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“There’s paper and pen in the top left-hand drawer. Be sure to include, in closing, how one day I’m going to rule the top side of Satellite City New Eden, and all of my loyal workers will get to follow me, guaranteed to receive their picks of jobs and places to live, even if it means evicting the current employees or tenants.”
Pelkey isn’t expecting treasonous honesty. “Jesus, Dom!”
“Politics is about misdirection. It’s about being humble on the outside while covetous on the inside. It’s about holding your cards close to your chest until you’re ready to play them, and knowing how to keep secrets.”
“All of that? I thought it was about pushing your way through a crowd, getting the best table in restaurants, and the biggest office.”
“Let me put it to you this way,” Pelkey leans forward and lowers his voice conspiratorially, “you know the most powerful secret I’ve ever heard in my life?”
“Exactly! Secrets are good to have. But they are only powerful when a limited number of people know them. If everyone knows, they lose their power.”
Delumbria is interested. “Is this the kind of percipient advice you gave the mayor?”
“All the time.”
“And he listened to you?”
Pelkey groans like a sleeping dog. “Most of the time.”
“See? That’s honest. I like that. Speaking the truth like that should be like talking around a lump in your throat. If there’s no lump, then it’s just human waste coming out a different orifice, and I know about human waste.”
“Yes, I’m sure you do, Dom.”
Delumbria pauses. He turns around and looks out into his industrial kingdom. “I coach you. You coach me. And we both become better people. What have you got to lose?”
“Nothing at all. For the time being.”
Delumbria turns to face his guest. He is smiling. “Good.”
“Until you try to convince me a violent revolution is good for New Eden.”
Delumbria dismisses him with an impatient wave of his hand. “Mind telling me what you’re doing with my sign, by the way?”
“I wanted to tell you, it’s time to advance the sign to 8 days.” Pelkey hands the sign over.
“Has another sneaky day gone by already? What’s the point of counting them, I ask you?”
“We’re all counting down or counting up to something. What do you want to be measured against?”
“When that thing says 10, I predict something amazing is going to transpire. You watch. And remember I told you. Now, write me a speech to inspire my groveling lackeys. They need a reason to keep on keeping on, and I intend on delivering.”
* * *
In the middle of a shallow man-made pond, Police Officer Lucy Nakamura, in rare civilian attire, complete with white straw hat with a black-and-red grosgrain ribbon, slowly paddles a canoe while her companion, a quiet, observant Sergeant Jefferson “Jeb” Cody, wearing his characteristic dress whites, scrutinizes the bustling activity on land.
This is Millennial Park, the ‘outdoor’ hub of the community. Some children are playing on swings and a bright orange roundabout, while others accompany their parents, standing impatiently in line for cotton candy and ice cream. If only their unbridled energy could somehow be harnessed to run the station, thinks Nakamura. She scrutinizes her stone-faced companion.
“Are you soaking it all in,” asks Nakamura, “or looking for the best place for a sniper to set up shop? Planning your counterassault.”
“A little of both, I suppose.”
“Is it too quiet for you, too peaceful?”
Cody’s response is hushed and reverential. “No, it’s lovely, almost perfect.”
“If it’s all the same to you, though, you wouldn’t mind so much being on an off-world search-and-destroy mission, surrounded by your team, bullets flying like snowflakes in a blizzard and the odds stacked heavily against you.”
“True.” He looks into her eyes directly, without any apology.
“Honesty’s so overrated,” says Nakamura with an ‘I knew you’d say that’ smile.
“But we always fought to protect the people at home, so that they could continue to have this, uninterrupted by invasion or oppression or other acts of war. You having this, here and now, makes me want to protect it, with my life, if asked.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“I’m not saying I agree with everything you people do here, like the way the police ride that messed-up penny-farthing thing.” He points to an officer patrolling through the park, rolling along at least six feet above the tallest of nearby walkers.
She shrugs him off. “Some call it an ordinary.”
“Of course they do. And all of your guns locked up in a vault — also messed up — but I can see how passionately your founding fathers were about making this a safe and special world.”
“If I had to be stranded far from home without any weapons and without my team,” Cody posits, “I couldn’t find a less threatening culture.”
“Thanks, I think,” says Nakamura.
“Which is why you need me. Just in case things unravel. I’ll keep training your officers -”
“Including this new one.”
“And, eventually, we’ll persuade somebody in charge that guns aren’t such an indiscriminate force when used by a righteous army.”
“And then we’ll be safe from all evils, foreign and domestic.” She sounds more sarcastic than she intends, or maybe not.
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole