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 26: More Loners Than Lovers
Despite a technical semblance to daybreak, an array of computerized overhead lights dutifully dawning, and identified by a distinctive row of high-wheelers parked out front, New Eden’s police headquarters has not yet begun to stir.
While standing next door at the firehouse, Police Chief Schiavelli is busy using a small white chamois cloth to wipe excess wax off the hood of his dear Hudson Super Six. His white-suited companion, Sgt. Cody, quietly admires the gentle precision of the task at hand while sitting in the front seat, one question circulating through his curious mind.
“I know what you’re thinking,” says Schiavelli, without looking up, focused. “Why take the time? Where’s the threat? No pesky birds to dive-bomb my sweet ride. No sticky mud to splatter up behind the tires. No loose dogs to do what loose dogs do.”
“Seems odd to me that the founding fathers, who designed everything that makes our existence near-perfect would, more or less, completely exclude Mother Nature from their virtual verisimilitude. So I just pretend she’s up there, watching, judging, waiting for her moment to announce herself, to remind us to include her more in our daily doings. What’s it cost me to be a little respectful, I ask you? Am I crazy?”
“No. You’ve read books. You’ve heard stories from your ancestors. You probably have vivid dreams of long-abandoned oceans. You know the smell of decay in the jungle even if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. And then there’s the delirious scent of fresh rain and ozone: a real toe-curling sensation. You know there’s more than just this.”
Schiavelli pauses. He lowers his voice, conspiratorially. “Do me a favor, Jeb. If you have any feelings for the people who’ve opened their hearts and homes to you, don’t tell anyone about the world you left behind. They think they have it made. And they do, for the most part.”
“There’s something going on here I never noticed before. Something Nakamura and Wayne made me think about recently. I just wonder if the founding fathers excluded Mother Nature by deliberate, sexist design. They didn’t want the competition.”
“What about you, Chief? Why isn’t there a woman in your life? I’ve nosed around your apartment when you weren’t looking; it’s wall-to-wall ‘male’ in there.”
“I’ve heard, at least where you come from, there’s someone for everyone. When you live on a planet of billions of people, there’s simple logic to that. But on a small, isolated space station, at least in my experience, there are more loners than lovers. Maybe it’s because we’re one big extended family, and it would be too weird to date your ‘Aunt Peggy’. Or you’re afraid someone’s going to be listening to your overheated domestic bliss and blab to your co-workers about the funny noises you make during intimacy. Privacy is the rarest commodity on this intergalactic field trip. Let’s just say, for simplicity’s sake, I like my space. I like my apartment. I like my office. I like my car. I like my space.”
“Understood,” says Cody, though he can’t help feeling a little skeptical. “But you seem to have room for Eartha and Lucy in your life.”
“That’s completely self-serving: prepackaged peace of mind, baby. I’ve got to know that when I die, and I’m not in any damned hurry, there will be bright, resourceful, intellectually curious individuals to take care of the next generation. I was lucky to find those two, though they’ll tell you luck had nothing to do with it. You and I are going to make sure they rise up in the ranks and get what they deserve. I haven’t told you, after this whole water treatment plant rebellion is finally behind us, we’re going to have ourselves a little adventure: I’m getting a team together, and we’re going to find a habitable planet to orbit. ’Bout time we mix things up around here.”
“It’ll be interesting to hear the mayor’s reaction,” says Cody, not trying to pop the chief’s bubble.
“Maybe I’ll forget to tell him,” says Schiavelli, half-joking.
Cody embraces the news by leaping out of the car. He smacks the roof with both hands. He’s onboard. He’s ready for the promotional push: placards affixed to black wrought-iron lamp posts, speeches in town halls, classes in school about the history of exploration. “And the guys? They could come out then, right? A planet would be plenty big enough to stay out of each other’s way.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. The mayor might even volunteer your team to be first with boots on the ground, rather than risk his frail, pale and whiny constituents.”
“Why not start the search now? Give everyone hope, distract Delumbria, and create a sense of community purpose.”
“Mayor Brandt would get intoxicated overnight with visions of colonization and conquest, believe me.” The chief shakes his head. “The new world would soon find itself decorated with a clutter of signs announcing Mt. Brandt, the Brandt River, Brandt Lake, Brandt Island.”
“It would stop the ‘war of envy’ in its tracks,” declares Cody.
“Listen, peace-muffin, I thought you lived for knocking heads together and separating necks from shoulders.”
“Of bad guys, enemies, black-hats. Not disgruntled neighbors. You said it: the people underground are related to the people aboveground. That’s not good in war, when it’s easier to do your job thinking of the other team as some heinous unreasonable ‘other’. Every time we hurt one of them, we’ll be hurting ourselves. It’s a no-win situation.”
“The water treatment plant rebellion isn’t going away,” says Schiavelli. “I’m sorry, Jeb. I know the parties in charge of the opposing forces. We can’t stop it, but we can plan for what comes next: a sense of purpose, you called it. After we’ve put out the fires, bandaged our wounded, and discharged our dead into the void, then we can build again.”
“One more question.”
“We’re about to have an insurrection. Why aren’t you more worried?’
“Because I’m out of options and I’m out of time. Until recently, this was a gated-community, murder-free zone. You said it. I’ve said it: this is family. When it reaches the point of no return, I’ll talk them down off the ledge. I’ve done it before.
“The good news and the bad news is there are no guns. So crowds gather in the streets, without uniforms, and nobody knows which side they’re on. Because there are no sides.
“Dom is all smoke and no fire. I wish his mom were still alive to tell him to sit up, eat his soup, and behave. Then it would be over. Since she’s not here, I’ve got to do it, in front of half the town. And I’ve got to be wicked convincing.
“Option 2 is I send you to kill him, quietly, so it looks like an accident. And while I know you’re a professional, I also know things can go terribly wrong. I don’t have it in me. Then we’d be in a worse place.”
“There’s another option,” offers Cody. “Appeal to Dom’s ego. What about Mt. Delumbria, the Delumbria River, Delumbria Lake, Delumbria Island?”
“Let me think on it. Maybe that’s the way to go. If my powers of persuasion fail me, if the mayor gets in the way, if it all goes to hell, just promise me you’ll keep the girls safe.”
“If you watch my back, I’ll watch yours.”
“Don’t worry about me,” says the chief. “Keep the girls safe; they’re the future.”
* * *
In the privacy of the medical examiner’s suite, Wayne hosts a rare guest and, rarer still, a trainee: fresh meat. To make the space and the experience more human-friendly, she is “cutting loose.” While she still wears her tried-and-true work uniform of snow-white lab coat, she has temporarily abandoned her traditional blue latex gloves and body-cavity-invading headlamp. Instead, Wayne stands bathed and bleached under blaring ceiling lights more appropriate to a twentieth-century evening sporting stadium or a nineteenth-century dissection lecture. She immediately regrets being so accommodating, even for her best friend and colleague, Lucy Nakamura. So, this is why she discourages visitors.
Nakamura, feeling unexpectedly glammed up in a lab coat, spins slowly and glances up at the lights, then down at her sleeves. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anything this white in my life! Or do those lights have special powers? You don’t happen to have sunglasses, do you?”
All business. “Never needed them. Shall we start?”
“You forget, I’ve seen footage from this space. Usually it’s more like the inside of Chief Leo’s refrigerator. ”
“I didn’t forget.” Wayne has not yet fully adjusted to the recent revelation that she is occasionally, secretly surveilled.
“So why are you mixing it up? Are you intentionally trying to blind me? Chase me away?”
“I thought this was what you’d want for training, so you could take tiny notes and look into dusty corners and stuff.”
“I want it to be ‘a day in the life’ of Eartha Wayne. Is this a day in the life?” Nakamura lifts her hands up above her head, as if she were ducking from the vivid electrical sunshine raining down on their heads.
Wayne is embarrassed. Somebody has been overthinking. “Not exactly.”
“Then turn the damn warehouse kliegs off, warden, and let’s play ‘nerd-girl dress-up’ with the snazzy latex gloves and the water-plant engineer headlights. I only have a short time today because Tweedledum and Tweedledee have penny-farthing duty. Maybe we can look at Teddy Tester under black strobe lights, and you can show me the difference between boys and girls. Or, even better, you can show me your top ten home-videos of some of the grosses injuries you’re ever recorded. What do you say?”
“Yes and yes. Sorry I got in my head,” Wayne apologizes. “I’m not used to company.”
“It’s me. You don’t have to impress me. I already think you walk on water. Why don’t you belch a couple of times and come down to my level?”
Wayne steps over the wall light switch. “Your level? What? Like on command?” She releases the darkness.
“I don’t know how. I don’t think I ever tried. Is this the newfound influence of Sgt. Cody, I fear?”
Nakamura’s sarcasm is showing. “Yes, alas, I was just waiting on a dusty shelf, with my life on unfulfilled, until the charming killer from another century came riding into town to teach me how to belch on command.”
“Can we start the training now?” Wayne is ready to move on from the awkward start.
“Sure. You do some training here, then I’ll do some training at my place.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole