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 23: In the Water Treatment Plant
On the Village Green at Millennial Park, Sgt. Cody and Lucy Nakamura lie side-by-side on a blanket atop artificial grass staring at fake starlight overhead. They are fully dressed and without any physical contact, though they certainly have a deep emotional connection. They are alone as far as the eye can see, though their actions are being captured on at least one surveillance camera, probably more. The couple wear matching gray sweats, except that Cody’s looks like it’s coming apart at the seam on his shoulder, evidence of effortful training of the ever-improving boys in blue.
There are no sounds of animals. Even the fountain is off that circulates the water in the nearby manmade pond. There is, however, a faint vibration to the ground from the unending toil of the underground engines that keep New Eden functioning.
Nakamura tries to read Cody’s usually troubled thoughts, ready to defend and validate his disappointment with his new world. “It never changes. The sky. It’s just one huge mural, in a way.”
“It’s fine. Someone put in a lot of effort to give it the homey touch. I’ve got no complaints.”
“But it’s not a real home, is it? A planetary home, I mean.”
“No, but planets aren’t necessarily better,” he offers. “For one thing, there are so many people.”
“Do they feel crowded?” She really doesn’t know.
“No. Yes. Sometimes.”
“Jeb, you’re teasing me.”
“I’m not. It’s complicated. They congregate in some areas, like near large shipping ports on the edge of vast oceans.”
“Vast oceans?” She peers out across the surface of the pond, imagining.
“And then other places, like remote deserts and tundras and the rugged tops of mountains, people visit, to see what it’s like, but then they miss their cozy apartments and dependable routines and conveniences. And back they go, leaving the wilderness pretty much unscathed.”
“What about the soldiers? What did they do? Did you protect people from the uncivilized things in the wilderness?”
Cody sits up, pulling a knee into his chest. “There was never a need. In the wilderness, people always know Nature has the upper hand and won’t negotiate, so they concede to powers greater than themselves and make a mostly dignified retreat back home. Wars are when neither side concedes.”
“Then where did you fight?”
“On my planet, instead of one city like you have, there were countries made up of hundreds of cities. And they had rules and they had boundaries, sometimes made of obvious geographic features, like rivers or mountain ranges, and sometimes arbitrary lines agreed to by powerful, paranoid chieftains.
“If people from the neighboring country came over without asking or broke formal charters that they thought were no longer in their best interests, an unresolvable disagreement might turn violent, I think, just to make it end quickly and decisively and so that there would never be an argument about the difference again.”
“Make sense,” says Nakamura, trying hard to follow along and trying even harder not to show it.
“But usually what happened, after years of an uneasy peace, each side stockpiled bigger weapons, in their minds, because they suspected their neighbor was doing the same thing. Each insisted they were only defending themselves.
“Then a third neighboring country would have an outbreak of mob violence. Maybe the chieftain wasn’t well liked because he gave all of his friends the best jobs, and he refused to be accountable or step down. So the neighbor to the northeast, perhaps a little nervous that the violence inherent in an unstable leadership would spread like wildfire, offers to help control the problem, with guns and soldiers. And, of course, it’s good real-life practice and a great show of their abilities, should anyone be paying attention.
“But the neighbor to the northwest reasons, eventually, it will be ‘two against one’, once the fighting is over, so they decide the best countermeasure is to send guns and soldiers to help the other team, the perceived underdogs, the rebels as it were, hoping that maybe they’ll win and then it will be two against the northeast neighbor.”
“I’m sorry I asked. I like Satellite City New Eden. It’s small, true, but maybe so small that it’s not worth fighting over. At least we don’t have anybody on our border.”
“But you do, don’t you?” asks Cody. He’s not joking.
“No. Oh, you mean Dom’s people, right? But his people are just more of us. We’re not two countries.”
“I’m not so sure, Lucy.”
“I’m sure,” she insists.
“I think he spends so much time isolated in the plant, he’s lost his connection to the topside.”
“That’s silly,” says Nakamura, trying to be gentle. “He was born here. Everybody’s born here.”
“What if Dom sees it another way? Would it really surprise you?”
“Don’t be offended, but are you maybe saying this because you want a reason to unthaw your friends to do what you do best?”
“You mean sell ice cream?” He’s joking.
He stands, instinctively brushing his pants, and pulls Nakamura to her feet. The top of her head just reaches his chin. “No, I don’t. They’re fine. It would be a quick skirmish anyway, not a war, because he’s no real threat. He has no weapons. He wouldn’t have a chance. And we have a trained police force, not as good as a weaponized army but, I genuinely think, sufficient to withstand a worker rebellion from the water treatment plant.”
“Then it was probably a good thing that you decided to stay with us.” She leans in and looks up at him.
“I guess it was.” You can tell by the way he stretches his neck and tilts his head that the information, the decision, has just hit him for the first time, an unexpected reality. He’s pleasantly surprised.
“You’re not bored?” asks Nakamura.
“Lucy, I don’t mind ‘down time’, to recharge and connect with other humans who are not my enemies. Even when I was at war, on missions, I would come home on leave and help repaint the house or work in the garden. It was peaceful and, for my parents, it was necessary, normal. I gave them those days by keeping the ugliness far away.”
“Do you ever want to see if you have a living blood relative around? I have access to census data going back to before we launched. You might have a great-great-great-grandnephew in the old folks’ home on 5th Avenue.”
“If it’s all right with you, I’d rather start over. Choose my own family.”
* * *
In the water treatment plant, in a glass booth reminiscent of an old-fashioned air traffic control tower, Communications Director Pelkey naps in Superintendent Delumbria’s favorite recliner. He wears a green-plaid blanket over his chest and across his lap. Behind him, he has secured another blanket over the network monitor of blinking lights and numbers, a vain attempt at muting the constant sense of urgency down here.
There’s a sign on the wall: “This plant has worked ‘8’ days without a lost time accident.”
From the other side of the transparent walls, Delumbria deliberately smacks the flat of his hands against the glass. He is the familiar specter of Death who haunts the dreams of children: a dark, enveloping shadow that leaves no options for evasion. Pelkey jumps. He is not happy to have his rare sleep interrupted.
Delumbria ducks his head and enters. He wears black denim coveralls, vaguely resembling a steam-locomotive engineer.
“Director Toby,” he says, “I’ve come for information, if it’s a convenient time.”
“Big surprise, just like you.” Pelkey stands, swaying slightly, not entirely awake, one foot asleep, and relinquishes the one true seat of power.
Delumbria accepts the chair with a half-nod. He grabs the sides of his desk with both large hands as if it were a steering wheel. Unseen, underneath, one heavy boot presses down into the floor, fancifully accelerating him to his goals.
“What can you tell me about my warriors?”
“The chief’s not talking.”
“I know. I would have gotten more out of him, but I left my implements of torture in my locker.”
Delumbria stands and leans across his desk. “We are getting out of here. All of us. I don’t care if we crash into an asteroid during the revolution. I’ve done my time. Very soon my shift is coming to an end. I can motivate the hopeless using your words and my podium. But I truly want them to win. They’ve earned it. They deserve it.
“For every day we delay, that blameless fraternity of blue brothers overhead gets additional training in death-defying self-defense by the frozen warrior-monk in white, making them tougher and smarter and harder to overcome. Not to mention, a royal pain in my butt.”
“We’ve got two choices, Toby. We get our own frozen warrior-monk by some method yet to be determined. Or we go now, leveraging the element of surprise, untrained and unprepared, before New Eden’s finest can clock in another lesson. What do you say? There are risks with both choices.”
“Either way, it’s going to make for some dark days ahead.”
“Look around you, Toby. Every day is a dark day down here. I’m just sharing the wealth. Are you with me on this? I’ve got to know you’re with me.”
“You’ll never get back into that simulated prim Victorian society. You messed up and Dr. Valdez died. You’re a pariah. But you have a chance of being somebody important in the new world. I’ll give you whatever you want.”
“I want my job back.”
“You want what?!” Delumbria starts choking, his whole body spasming. He grabs a handkerchief from his pocket and dabs his eyes. “Toby, my friend, you can have your old job and the chief’s job and the mayor’s job, all at one time. All you have to do is ask. I give you this special offer: right of first refusal.”
“What about you? What do you want?” asks Pelkey, skeptical.
“I’ll let you in on my secret: I don’t want to be in charge of anything. I just want to see the mayor’s face and the chief’s face when Rome burns. They thought their world would last forever. Boy, were they wrong.”
“The last laugh’s on them,” adds Pelkey, less enthusiastically than he intends.
“And another thing, I’m trusting you here, the plant’s not broken. Never was. I reprogrammed the system to be more efficient. It’s a good thing. Of course, it meant to save a few cycles ‘here’, I had to eliminate a few cycles ‘there’. The whole anti-aggression chemical infusion process in this case. We didn’t need it. We don’t have guns, or access to guns. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I asked myself. We nag each other to death.”
“There’s always clubs and knives.”
“Now we have professional soldiers. ‘Expect the unexpected,’ somebody once said. That changes everything. Now, there could really be some serious consequences. As I understand it, Boyer shoved an entire scalpel right through the good doctor’s throat. We have not seen violence like that around here in my lifetime, in several lifetimes.”
“I was there. It was nasty. I had to keep myself from vomiting,” Pelkey confesses.
“You were very brave. He could have easily turned on you as well. If he’d come at me, I’ve got some weight I could throw around. But you? What have you got besides attitude and a sharp pencil?”
“The element of surprise. He’d never expect me to fight back. Nobody would.”
“Time’s are changing us, even you,” say Delumbria. “And, you know what, I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of excited.”
* * *
The always-uniformed Police Chief Leo Schiavelli leans back against the hood of a shiny black 1919 Hudson Super Six, arms crossed and chest inflated, a proud “father” of the peace around him. Sgt. Cody, stiff and self-conscious in jeans and a black turtleneck, has been summoned here for additional orientation.
The young, often running, participants of “all things” Millennial Park appear blissfully ignorant of the day’s politics, of the primal struggle for power that could drastically change everything. Some children swoosh down a slide with their arms straight up in the air, smiling brittlely, like it’s the most daring thing they’ve ever done in their short lives. And it probably is.
“Would that life was always only about fun and games,” muses Schiavelli. “I don’t even remember my childhood. I know I spent more time tagging along with my father on-the-job than playing actual tag.”
“They’re enjoying themselves,” Cody adds, though it’s pretty obvious.
“I want you to watch them, a little bit every day. Soak it in. I want it to get under your skin. Is that all right with you?”
“You like it here, right?” Schiavelli asks, though it’s meant rhetorically.
“Even when you and Nakamura don’t have the place to yourselves?”
“You saw that?” Cody blushes. He turns away.
“You’re fine. At ease, soldier.” Schiavelli places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but with me, you’re pretty much the best of what we’ve got to offer, which is ironic since you’re not really from here. It would take a lot for you to disappoint me.” He drops his hand.
“I just want to make a difference,” says Cody.
“After all those years in that sleep tank, sometimes at night I’m afraid I’ll close my eyes and wake up in another century because someone’s ordered me back on the shelf for my own good, until I’m needed.”
“You’re needed now.”
“I just mean, Lucy offered to distract me, to keep me up until I got tired. We weren’t doing anything inappropriate, I promise.”
“She’s a lovely, generous, patient person,” admits Schiavelli.
“I would never take advantage of her.”
“I’ll babysit your kids. I’ll train your officers. I’ll do whatever I can to keep this place safe. I only have one question.”
“Can I please put my uniform back on? I feel like I’m wearing my PJs in public. This was nice of Lois to find me civilian clothes, but it’s too casual. I feel like everyone’s staring.”
“Which they never do when you’re wearing your dress whites?” The chief is being sarcastic.
“But it’s my uniform. It’s like a badge of honor. If they stare at me when I’m in uniform, I take it as a compliment, like they’re acknowledging me for watching over them.”
“Even though, when you’re in all white, it probably means they’re looking for your Good Humor truck and the yummy ice cream snacks therein?”
“I know. About that. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I was wondering if you could arrange for me to have a Good Humor truck of my own. I figure, if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them. Right? The kids and their parents would get more comfortable around the new face in town. I’d get to learn some names, get integrated, feel wanted. Or is that overkill from a lifelong introvert?”
“I like it. I mean it,” agrees Schiavelli. “Sounds like a great idea. I wish I’d thought of it. We’ll make it happen.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole