Copyright © 1998
"Theyíre shutting down the engines tonight." Trish said as she stared at the beautiful star studded sky through the cabin porthole.
Steve walked up behind her, slipping an arm around her waist and kissing her lightly on the neck. "Nice. Iíve always wanted to find out what sex in zero G would be like."
She laughed, turning around and planting a full wet kiss on his lips. "I thought you old guys werenít supposed to be interested in sex all the time."
"Most old guys arenít traveling with a beautiful twenty year old coed." Steve laughed running an appreciative hand around her butt. "And, we old guys just love to be reminded weíre old."
She flushed a deep scarlet red. "Well you are twice my age."
"That I am." Steve said, pulling away. "Flatter me again by telling me why I was the lucky man you picked as your companion for this journey."
"I would have picked you anyway." She protested. "Honestly!"
"And the fact that the others were not already married or gay had nothing at all to do with it?" Steve asked slyly.
She grinned evilly. "That only sped up the selection process. I had this nice idea of you sneaking up behind me while we discussed the fun weíre going to have tonight. How did we get on this subject?"
Steve laughed. "You called me old."
"Oh." She pulled down the zipper of her jumpsuit. "Well I guess now is as good a time as any for you to prove how young you still are."
Steveís eyebrows arched appreciatively as she stepped out of the jumpsuit and let it fall slowly to the floor.
Dinner was served early that evening and was by far the most lavish feast yet prepared on the journey. There was a very good reason for both the lavishness and the early meal. Since their departure from Earth, the shipís engines had been pushing the gargantuan, modified asteroid through space. This thrust simulated almost half of Earthís regular gravity.
Now though, the Isthmus was preparing to drift for two weeks before she would begin her turn and resume a braking thrust, slowing her down as she neared Mars. For those two weeks they would be adrift, there would be almost no gravity at all. Though the Isthmus was a modified asteroid the gravity was so feeble that should someone drop a pen, the time between release and landing could be measured in days rather than seconds. The meal was a veritable feast because it would be the last meal they would have for the next two weeks that would not come from a squeeze tube or a ration pack.
The Isthmus was only nominally a passenger liner. Her primary purpose was to carry cargo between Earth and Mars, and this she had been doing now for almost half a century. Most people selected the instantaneous magic of teleporting over the eight week space voyage, but enough people were still leery enough of teleporting for the great space freighters to make some room for paying passengers.
Steve and Trish had been invited to dine at the captains table this evening. On anything other than a space voyage this would have been an honor. However considering there were only twelve passengers aboard every passenger would dine at the Captainís table eventually. Still it was Steveís first time at the table, and from his vantage point he was able to get a good look at his fellow travelers. As he gazed around the room he realized for the first time that he had been so infatuated with Trish that he had made no effort at all to get to know any of these people.
"Is this everyone aboard?" Steve asked the captain.
"Indeed it is Mr. Whiley. Twelve passengers including yourself and the fair lady, three crewmen, and six droids." The captain answered.
"I canít believe more people donít travel this way." Trish said. "Itís terribly romantic."
"Romance is one way to pass the time I suppose." The captain admitted. "Most people donít have the patience for an eight week journey. Even more people donít have the fortitude to withstand two weeks without gravity. Our sister ship, the Carpathia, sees a great deal more passenger traffic than we do, since they put on the rotating wheel. Centrifugal force substitutes for gravity when the ship goes adrift."
"Why do we have to drift anyway?" Steve asked, suddenly interested. "Seems it would be faster to just accelerate to the halfway point, then turn and decelerate."
"Well thereís a number of factors really. Fuel concern is one. But really the main reason is the faster we go, the more dangerous an impact is to us. Of course we have several tons of rock and steel between us, but the faster we go the less that will serve to protect us." Noticing their worried faces, "Oh donít be too concerned. Itís precautionary only. Space really is quite empty. In my thirty years aboard the Isthmus weíve never hit anything larger than a baseball and all that did was create another crater on the surface, no harm done."
"The technology is absolutely wonderful." Trish commented. "It has been a very pleasant journey so far."
The captain coughed. "Well, technology keeps marching forward. If one of our passengers has his way ships such as these will no longer be needed."
"Really?" Steve asked.
The captain inclined his head. "Yes. The distinguished looking man with the goatee over there is a certain Doctor Ernest Vance, a Nobel Prize winner by all accounts. Apparently he travels to mars to test what he calls a wormhole between the moon and mars. He insists that with a wormhole you can just step through a hole in space on the Moon and step out on Mars."
"You can do that with a Teleport." Steve said, frowning slightly. "Not my preferred way to travel."
"No. No. Teleport works by destroying you one place and re-creating you somewhere else. The good Doctor explains his wormhole as a fold in space, joining two distant points. Nothing is destroyed -- nothing created. Apparently it is as simple as walking through a door and finding yourself millions upon millions of miles away."
"Well that is interesting!" Steve confessed.
The captain nodded. "That it is. If it works, it will likely put me out of a job in a few years, but Iím near enough to retirement anyway. If it works, it will put the very stars within our reach."
Steve nodded and Trish beamed. "An astronomerís dream." She sighed.
"Is that what you are studying?", The captain asked. "Forgive me if I intrude. The manifest says you are traveling to continue your studies at Molesworth University on Mars."
"That is exactly what Iím majoring in. Iím returning to start my Junior year, on a full scholarship!", Trish bubbled.
"Very impressive. Itís not often Martian universities extend scholarships to Terrans, you must be an exceptionally talented lady."
"I had excellent scholastic scores itís true. But I think the primary motivation was to introduce some cultural diversity to the university. The younger Martians these days apparently forget all too easily that there are billions of their fellow men in their same cosmic neighborhood. And Iíll admit theyíre a bit different than the people back home."
The captain nodded. "That they are. They still have to work very hard to keep the place livable. The lack of luxuries and infrastructure tend to make them a very grim and determined people."
As desert ended the Captain rose and addressed the gathered compliment. "Good people, in an hour we will shut down the engines. If you would be so kind as to return straight away to your cabins and secure yourselves when prompted we should have no problems. Those of you who have difficulties with micro-gravity should take one of the pills youíll find in your bathrooms. Please remember, extended periods of micro-gravity present some difficulties and on behalf of the entire crew I remind you we are here to alleviate those difficulties should they arise."
Steve strapped himself into the easy chair as the time neared. Trish walked over and settled into his lap, snuggling in comfortably. When the captainís voice started counting down the seconds over the speaker, Steve wrapped his arms around her. When the countdown reached zero, the ever present rumbling of the ship ceased. The quiet that followed was profound.
"Let go." Trish said eagerly.
Steve complied and she pushed away gently drifting lazily towards the ceiling. "Iím flying!" She squealed in delight.
"Iím falling!" Steve squealed back! And indeed, though he was securely strapped to the comfortable chair, every sense in his body told him he was falling.
Trish turned gracefully in mid-air and came to rest standing on the ceiling looking down at Steve. "Youíll get used to it quickly, I promise. Do you need a pill?"
"No. Iíve taken this trip before. Youíre right, Iíll get used to it, but it will take a few minutes."
"You never told me why you were going to Mars." Trish said as she pushed off the ceiling, flying fast towards one of the walls.
Steve smiled as he watched her carefree acrobatics. "My sister is getting married. Since Iím the only family sheís got left it falls to me to give her away." Suddenly he laughed.
Trish noticing the laughter grabbed hold of a light stand and pulled herself to a stop. "Whatís so funny?"
"Oh just recalling something about children, sugar, and bouncing off walls.", Steve said, still chuckling.
Trish arched an eyebrow dangerously. "Children?" She pulled down the zipper to her jumpsuit and disrobed, tossing it across the room. She was wearing nothing underneath and Steve could not help but note how wonderfully micro-gravity tended to augment the female form. "Are you calling me a child?"
"N-Never!" Steve stammered.
She smiled and pushed very lightly off the wall, drifting towards the center of the room, flapping her arms lightly to come to a stop, in the dead center. "Are you going to join me?" She asked, her voice becoming sultry and full of promise.
"Right away!" Steve answered eagerly, fumbling at the straps in the chair. In his haste he pushed away from the chair a little too hard and went speeding towards the ceiling, something he didnít notice as he was searching for his zipper, at least until he bumped his head.
"Offf!", he grunted as he rubbed his injured cranium.
Trish giggled. "Slow and steady is the rule in sex and zero G Steve me boy."
Finally Steve managed to discard his jumpsuit and pushed lightly off the ceiling drifting over towards Trish. Her smile grew larger as he drifted closer. When they were close enough she wrapped her arms around him and drew him close for a lingering kiss. When his engorged cock moved from pressing against her waist to probing for her entrance she pulled back.
"Trust me Steve. The only real way to have sex in space is orally." She said. "And since men tend to loose interestÖ." She let the thought trail off.
Steve understood the latter full well, though it would be the next day before he understood the former. He smiled and pushed against her, lowering himself between her legs. As they floated, weightless he began to probe her with his tongue, with a confidence none of Trishís peers had yet mastered. Trish arched her back and neck, closing her eyes as she groaned.
"I forgot how wonderful this is." She gasped between panting breaths. Steveís deft tongue probed her deeply before moving up to run playful circles around her clitoris. As her gasps became more pronounced, more urgent, he began to suck her, grinding his lips to add additional sensations. When her gasps turned into shrieks of "Yes!" he found her hands wrapped fully around the back of his head, pulling him into her.
"Wonderful!" Trish groaned. "That was wonderful! You could do that to me all night long."
Steve smiled and favored her with another orgasm. After she had recovered from the second, Trish pushed away slightly. "Ready to go to heaven Steve?"
"I hope you mean figuratively darling." Steve chuckled.
Trish smiled knowingly. "Youíll have to decide that for yourself. Close your eyes." Steve complied. "Youíre drifting. Nothing exists but this." She wrapped her mouth around his erect cock, and then one hand around his buttocks. Steve groaned. "This is sooo weird." Steve moaned.
"Hush." Trish commanded. "It gets better." Then she returned her mouth around his cock and began to bob her head up and down. The only sensations that existed for Steve was her warm, moist mouth around his excited cock and her light touch on his ass which she used to keep contact with him. Young though she was, she brought him to the threshold of orgasm with a deft, practiced efficiency and then held him there, until the only thing that existed for him was the waves of pleasure springing forth from his groin. It was like floating in a ball of pure pleasure. Finally she sped up just enough to throw him over the edge, and the orgasm was blinding in its intensity.
"Wow." Steve said, more than a little awed as Trish floated up to snuggle against him.
"Told you." Trish smiled as she brushed away some hair that had fallen near his eye.
"That you did. To bad itís only two weeks." Steve smiled.
"To bad indeed." Trish agreed.
The next day was spent in an orgy of sex play, exploring the possibilities that zero G provided. Trish was indeed right. Copulation was so difficult it wasnít worth doing. They were as apt to send each other flying around the room as anything, and after twice flying uncontrollably into a wall or floor they stuck to oral sex.
They were floating in the middle of the room that evening, when the doorbell chimed. Steve sighed and pushed away from Trish, floating over toward his jumpsuit. The doorbell chimed again as he was getting dressed. As he pulled up his zipper he noted that Trish had already dressed. Now however he had a small problem as he was floating in mid-air. The doorbell chimed yet again as he began flapping his arms trying to get to a nearby wall. Trish laughed, delighted at his comedy and pushed off the floor towards him, pushing him into a wall.
"Thanks!" Steve said sheepishly as he pushed himself onto the floor the soles of his suit gripped the floor, providing some traction. The doorbell was chiming a fourth time as he opened it to find the Purser. She was a smallish Japanese girl, barely older than Trish. "What can I do for you Miko?"
"The Captain has asked me to bring you to Doctor Vanceís quarters." Her eyes flitted worriedly towards Trish and then back to Steve. "There has been a murder."
"Doctor Vance?" Steve asked.
Miko nodded her head. Trish had moved up behind Steve and was listening intently. "The Captain wishes to keep this as quiet as possible for now." Miko said pointedly to Trish. "He wishes you to come to the Doctorís cabin." She said to Steve.
"Of course. Let me get my notebook first." Steve said.
"Can I tag along Steve?" Trish asked as she followed him over to the desk.
Steve frowned. "Youíd better not." He said cautiously. "It wonít be pretty. It never is."
"Please?" She said, batting her lashes. "Let me be your Doctor Watson."
Steve sighed. "You donít play fair at all."
"I know." She giggled. "Iím terrible arenít I?"
Steve sighed again. "OK, but unless weíre alone be as quiet as a mouse. Can you do that?"
She snapped to attention and gave him a salute. "Aye-Aye Captain." She broke into a broad grin. "I promise Iíll be your perfect, devoted servant."
Steve pulled the notebook computer from his desk. "OK." He said as he tossed the computer toward her. "You can set this up to record the crime scene."
She nodded and followed him back to the door where the Purser was waiting anxiously. She frowned when she saw Trish was going to accompany them. "The Captain will not be pleased to see Ms. Carter."
Steve shrugged. "Iíve selected her as my assistant. Since weíve been inseparable for the last few days, right now she is the only person aboard this ship Iím sure did not commit the murder, besides myself."
"As you say Mr. Whiley." Miko said as she led them down the wide hallway towards the Doctorís Cabin.
As they entered the room Steveís eyes were immediately drawn to the corpse seated in the easy chair. Doctor Vance appeared to have been around fifty, and had the gray hairs that went with that age, giving him a distinguished look. He had strapped himself in to the chair and tucked in the folds of the chair by his side was a paperback novel. His tan tunic was soaked in red, still wet blood around his chest.
The Captain and Mrs. Vance were standing by the bed, talking in hushed tones as they entered. Noticing their arrival the Captain turned and walked over to them, a grim expression on his face. "Thank you for coming Mr. Whiley. As you can see we have need of your services."
"It does appear we will all be going down in the history books." Steve said. "Thereís never been a murder in space before."
"Iím hoping you can allow us to say thereís never been an unsolved murder in space before we reach Mars.", The Captain said.
Steve nodded. Then noticing the Captainís gaze on Trish said, "Ms. Carter will be acting as my assistant."
The Captain frowned. "Before I sent for you I checked your credentials Mr. Whiley; former policeman, former FBI agent, former CIA agent, and a distinguished career as a private investigator. Your references are unassailable. You are the only person other than myself I do not suspect at the present."
"Then since Ms. Carter and I have been together since we started drifting, she is cleared by association to my credentials." Steve said.
"Of course." The Captain admitted.
"Letís begin with how the body was found." Steve suggested.
The Captain nodded. "Miko, please tell Mr. Whiley what you know."
"At six thirty, ships time, the call light for this room began to flash. This is a non-urgent call, it usually means the passenger simply wants the room straightened up. If itís urgent theyíll call voice. I had nothing pressing at the moment so I answered the call straight away. When I got to the door there was no answer. This is not unusual. Some passengers press the call button before they leave so they return to a straightened cabin. After a minute I opened the door and found Doctor Vance as you see him now."
Steve checked his watch noting the current time of seven-fifteen. "I take it you then went straight to the Captain?"
"Yes." Miko replied.
"And I came down to see for myself." The Captain said. "I sent Miko to track down Mrs. Vance and set Lieutenant Alexander to guard the room. I then reported the crime to my superiors. After we had investigated your credentials it was decided to allow you to head the investigation."
Steve nodded. "And when was he last seen alive?"
"At six." Mrs. Vance said. "I left here at six oíclock."
"Well thatís a nice narrow time frame." Steve said as he walked over to the body. "Did anyone else see Mr. Vance alive around that time?"
Miko nodded her head. "Mr. Vance called me at two minutes after six and requested the temperature in his cabin be lowered. It is logged in my workstation."
He paused a moment in front of the lifeless form and turned. Behind him on the wall was an oblong circle of splattered blood. He studied it a moment. "Odd." He said. "He was obviously stabbed. When the killer removed the knife it must have sent the blood flying. Notice the clean area in the circle? Almost like an eclipse. Iíd be willing to bet some of the blood landed on the killers clothing."
"I didnít notice that." The Captain said. "But now that you mention it, it is quite obvious."
"You have spare tunics on board?" Steve asked.
"Yes." The Captain said.
"Enough to replace everyoneís current wardrobe?"
"I believe so."
"I think the first thing we should do is gather everyoneís jumpsuits. Label each one. If we havenít found the killer by the time we reach mars, a DNA sweep should find which tunic was involved with the murder."
The Captainís face brightened considerably. "An excellent idea. Miko fetch Lieutenant Alexander and see to it at once. Be very meticulous with your notes."
"While youíre at it, be on the lookout for a largish knife." Steve added. "If you find one, donít touch it, but send for me at once."
The captain nodded his agreement. Miko bowed slightly and left. Steve turned his attention back to the corpse letting his eyes move slowly up from the manís feet, probing every millimeter of the body. When his eyes fell to the clenched left hand, Steve paused and moved in closer. Between the fingers were a few strands of red hair. "Captain, I think you should find Mrs. Vance another cabin. Being forced to occupy this one would no doubt prove distressful to her."
"Of course! I wasnít thinking." The Captain apologized. "Please Mrs. Vance, if you would accompany me."
"Y-Yes." Mrs. Vance stammered.
After they had left Trish walked over and knelt beside Steve. "What is it? What did you find?"
Steve took the manís hand and turned it over, palm up, forcing the fingers open to reveal the red hair between the fingers. "Red Hair." Steve said.
"Thereís only one red-headed person on board!" Trish said excitedly. "Gosh this is easy!"
Steve pulled out a handkerchief and snatched a floating coin out of the air. "And Iíll wager the red-haired man has been to India. This is an Indian Paisa. Look at the placement of the wound. That had to go through his ribs, whoever did this was very strong. Notice also only one entry point. He was stabbed only once."
"Well I guess now you just tell the captain to arrest the red-haired man and itís all done with."
"Think a moment Trish. Weíre in space. Thereís only fifteen people here. No one can enter. No one can leave. What kind of murder happens in such a situation?"
Trish frowned. "A crime of passion?"
"Yes, that is one possibility. Thereís another."
"A premeditated murder? But thatís silly."
"Not if you plan to make it look like someone else did the murder." Steve said. "Examine the hairs in the hand carefully."
Trish leaned forward and stared. "Theyíre hairs."
"Notice the roots, and think." Steve coaxed.
Trishís face drew into a concentrating frown. Her eyes suddenly lit up. "The roots are facing the palm! If he had grabbed someoneís hair the roots would have been on the outside not the inside!"
"Good!" Steve said. "Youíre beginning to think like a detective now. Itís possible he may have had some weird grip on the murderer. But Iíll wager you that this is a plant. Right now, our red-haired man is on the very bottom of the list of suspects."
Trish beamed as Steve explored the corpse further. "This will be a tough case." He said as he examined the body. "We donít have net access out here and there are none of the traditional tools." He bent over and sniffed at the bodyís mouth. "Hmmm. Wine."
Steve pushed away, and started exploring the rest of the room, finding nothing remarkable. "See if you agree with this Trish. Sometime between six and six-thirty, someone rings the doorbell. Dr. Vance tucks his book into the chair and the murderer enters. The murderer has brought wine. Doctor Vance drinks some, and shortly thereafter is stabbed. When the murderer withdraws the knife, blood rushes out; some of it splashing on the murderer, the rest hitting against the wall. The murderer then places the red hairs in the victim's hand and leaves behind an Indian Paisa. The killer collects whatever the wine was in and leaves, pressing the attendant call button on the way out."
"I donít think I could have pieced it together as easily, but that certainly sounds right." Trish said, impressed. "But why the call button?"
"Most likely the murderer felt he or she had a solid alibi for the time in question, since this would serve to fix the time of death. Also, if it is indeed a frame job, it is likely the person being implicated does not have a strong alibi. Still it is possible that Dr. Vance managed to hit the call button before he lost consciousness and panicked the killer."
"So if all the clues are false, how are you going to find the REAL killer?"
"Two of the clueís arenít false." Steve noted.
Trish frowned again. "Youíve lost me."
"There are two very real clues right in this room; though they are contradictory. First, there is the fact that it took a great blow to drive the knife through the ribs. That indicates strength, probably a man. The second is the wine. Men donít ordinarily share wine, that would indicate a woman entered the room."
"Maybe he shared a drink with his wife before she left.", Trish suggested.
"Perhaps. But there is no wine in this room. It may be a dead end, weíll know after we find out more about his day."
The Captain re-entered. "Iíve got Mrs. Vance settled. Lieutenant Alexander and Miko are seeing to the cabin searches. Iím afraid weíve had to tell everyone thereís a murder, no other explanation would serve."
Steve nodded. "Thatís fine. Iíd like to see the passenger manifest tonight and first thing tomorrow, Iíd like to start interviewing everyone on the ship."
"Of course. I anticipated as such." The captain withdrew a small pad and handed it to Trish who started transferring the information. "Have you discovered anything?"
Steve nodded. "Red hairs in the victimís hands and an Indian Paisa, but I believe them to be plants to frame someone else."
The Captain frowned. "Red hair, that would be Jase Hobkins. Are you so sure itís a frame-up?"
"Itís possible. In any case itís best to be thorough especially when history will be watching us."
The Captainís head snapped back, stung by the reminder. He took the pad back from Trish when she offered it to him. "Who would you like to interview first tomorrow?"
"Iíll start with Mrs. Vance. Iíll schedule the rest after Iíve had the chance to study the passenger manifests."
"Very good. The home office has agencies all over the globe gathering more detailed information on our passengers but it will no doubt take several days to compile."
"A very challenging case." Steve said.
"Do you require anything else?" The captain asked.
Steve thought a moment. "Do your computers log the airlocks?"
"No. They are completely independent systems. Safety reasons and all." The captain said.
"If I were a murderer and wished to dispose of evidence on a space ship I would send it out the nearest airlock." Steve said.
The Captainís face brightened for the first time that evening. "Then the killer has made a mistake!"
"Yes! Weíre drifting right now, and feeble though it is, the ship does have gravity. There would be just enough atmosphere left in an airlock to send something into space, but it would most likely be in orbit around us at least until we fire the engines again."
"Do you think you can find it, assuming of course that is how the evidence was disposed of?"
The Captain frowned again. "I donít know. But I shall most certainly set the task to Lieutenant Alexander when he finishes the room searches."
"Then I guess thereís nothing further to do until morning." Steve said.
Steve sat in the easy chair of his room studying the list Trish had downloaded. Trish was curled in his lap studying the manifest as well.
Barr, Jeff S. M - USA - Detroit, MI - 48 - Engineer (Teleport). Purpose: Pleasure - Room #3 Brown, Tanner B. M - EU - Germany, Bonn - 33 - Journalist (Science Times) Purpose: Business - Room #15 Carter, Trish M. F - USA - Vancouver, BC - 20 - Student (Molesworth) Purpose: Business - Room #8 Davis, Myrial K. F - EU - England, Westminster - 38 - Homemaker. Purpose: Pleasure - Room #5 Davis, Paul C. M - EU, England, Westminster - 43 - Director, NexCor. Purpose: Pleasure - Room #5 Dawson, Janet C. F - USA - San Francisco, CA - 29 - None. Purpose: Pleasure - Room #9 Gold, Barry J. M - USA - San Francisco, CA - 28 - Doctoral Candidate (Harvard) Purpose: Business - Room #19 Hobkins, Jase D. M - USA - Miami, FL - 44 - Research Assistant. Purpose: Business - Room #18 Kneed, Kathy T. F - EU - England, Westminster - 28 - Secretary. Purpose: Business - Room #6 Vance, Ernest T. Dr. M - Quebec - Montreal - 51 - Researcher (Harvard) Purpose: Business - Room #20 Vance, Grace L. F - Quebec - Montreal - 47 - Homemaker. Purpose: Pleasure - Room #20 Whiley, Steve A. M - USA - Los Angeles, CA - 40 - Private Investigator. Purpose: Pleasure - Room #7
"Not much here." Trish said.
"Quite a bit actually." Steve said.
"Oh please!" Trish said incredulously.
"Well lets start with Mr. Barr. It says he travels to mars for pleasure, but he works for Teleport."
"Do you not suppose Teleport might be interested in a magical wormhole that lets people travel from one point to another?"
Trish thought on that. "I guess they would."
"Paul Davis works for NexCor, a giant multinational shipping firm. They even run their own space freighters, yet he travels on a competitorís ship with his wife and probably his secretary. Is this suggestive?"
"Heís also interested in the wormhole!" Trish said, her eyes brightening. "Janet Dawson is probably hitched up with Barry Gold, sheís probably the one I saw at their table. Barry Gold is probably working on the project with Doctor Vance." She continued the train of thought. "Tanner Brown is probably covering the story. Jase Hobkins is also working on the project. Kathy Kneed is probably Paul Davisí secretary." She stared at Steve in surprise. "Aside from the crew, weíre probably the only people on the ship who arenít here because of the wormhole thingy."
Steve smiled. "Very good! You really ought to consider studying law enforcement, youíve got a good eye for these things."
She gave an exasperated sigh. "Only after you rub my nose in it!"
"You learn to look for these things -- how they all connect. Itís part of the job description."
"Like Mrs. Vance." Trish said confidently.
"You noticed." Steve smiled.
"She was very calm. She looked disturbed, but not at all like what youíd expect of a wife who just found her husband murdered."
"Thatís not necessarily incriminating." Steve warned. "It could be shock or maybe there wasnít much love in the marriage. Iíve seen spouses before who were perfectly innocent, yet very happy at their better halfís demise."
"I think Iíll stick to astronomy." Trish said. "I think thereís such a thing as knowing your fellow man too well."
"Thatís the hardest thing about being a cop." Steve agreed. "It doesnít take long at all to loose your faith in humanity."
She smiled and wiggled her bottom against his crotch. "I think I can restore a little faith if youíre in the mood. I know itís terribly perverse and all, but all this has made me horny as hell."
"Well, I think something can be arranged." Steve replied slyly.
After a half hour or so, Trish had indeed managed to restore some of Steveís faith.
"Good morning Mrs. Vance." Steve said as the stately woman entered the room Captain Zigler had set up for them. "Please have a seat, although I guess it really isnít necessary."
"Iíll take the seat Mr. Whiley." Mrs. Vance said as she walked over to the chair and strapped herself down. "I imagine Iíd look pretty silly floating around."
"Well it has itís merits." Steve said. He paused a moment and glanced at his notebook. "If you could, please tell me everything that occurred immediately before you left your husband and what you were doing during the time he was -- well the time of the incident."
"I know this is going to sound perfectly horrible," she began, "but yesterday Ernest found me kissing Jase Hobkins. Weíve been good friends for many years, but in the last few months weíve also been lovers. Ernest and I argued about it in our room. He was a hard man Mr. Whiley. He lived for his job, never for me. I was a showpiece, something he drug out for faculty parties and the reporters. I was as much a part of his wardrobe as his tuxedo. The argument was quite intense and I fled. I spent the next forty-five minutes with Jase in his room, until Miko found me."
"You realize that gives you a strong motive for the murder." Steve asked, surprised at her candor.
She nodded. "I do. But it would be a stronger motive if I tried to hide the truth and you found out anyway. I remember reading about you in the papers when you hunted the rose stalker. It was quite sensational at the time. I not only think youíre good enough to catch my husbandís killer, but I also think youíre good enough to find out about the affair. So I save you the effort."
"Catching the Rose Stalker was the most difficult case in my career." Steve admitted. "And I do thank you for your candor. If I may ask, where exactly were you and Jase making out?"
"In the Gym."
"Did anyone else see you?"
"I donít know. I mean, I really wasnít paying attention to anything other than Jase."
Steve nodded. "Now let us discuss your husbandís research."
"The wormhole?" Mrs. Vance asked.
"Tell me a little about it." Steve prompted.
"Well the first thing you should know is that the wormhole is really Barry Goldís baby. My husband won a Nobel Prize for his theory on gravitational wavelets, but it was Barry who saw the possibility of using the theory to create a wormhole between two points. I thought that what my husband was doing was despicable. We argued about it constantly, but he assured me it was simply how things were done in the academic world."
Steve thought on that a moment. "So now we have another suspect."
"Oh Barry? He wouldnít hurt a fly and he idolized my husband. Thatís probably why they got along so well."
Steve shrugged. "So tell me what the wormhole does."
She frowned. "Youíll get a better explanation from Barry or Jase."
"Well apparently itís possible to generate some sort of field, and if a similar field is started somewhere else, the space between the two fields sort of bends. When it bends enough, itís like the two fields are right next door to each other and if you pass something through itís like passing something through an ordinary doorway only it appears wherever the second field is."
"Have they tried it before?" Steve asked.
"On the lunar research facility. It worked flawlessly. Weíre traveling to Mars to see if distance affects the device. If it worked between the Moon and Mars we were going to travel to Europa and make one last field test before announcing the discovery and commercializing it."
"And when itís commercialized?" Steve asked. "Who shares in the profits?"
"Well the university for one. They get twenty-five percent. My husband, since he lead the project, would get fifty percent. The other twenty-five percent would be distributed between the others working on the project as he saw fit."
"And now?" Steve asked.
"Why Iím not sure. I would suppose Barry would take over the project, based on his work to-date and the success of the project so far, no doubt the college would grant his Doctorate and allow him to continue."
Steve leaned back. "And there was never any contention between Barry and your husband?"
"Not that I knew of." Mrs. Vance answered. "Whenever he and Janet visited for dinner, everything was very cordial. He often remarked to me how much he admired my husbandís theories on gravity."
"Janet is Barryís girlfriend?" Steve asked.
"Fiancee." Mrs. Vance corrected. "Barry proposed before we departed. She accepted."
"Do you think Janet knows your husband was appropriating Barryís work?"
"Maybe. I really donít know."
"What are your impressions of Janet?"
"Well sheís a nice enough girl I guess. Young, very pretty and talkative. Barry seems happy enough with her."
"Donít spare anyoneís feelings please Mrs. Vance."
She sighed. "Really sheís a very nice girl. With the differences in our ages thereís just not enough to really form a good friendship."
"Do you know a Mr. Paul Davis?"
"Only from meeting him on the ship. Heís the director of NexCor."
"How about a Mr. Tanner Brown?"
Mrs. Vance smiled. "Heís the Science Times reporter who is covering the wormhole experiments. Itís all top secret of course, but when the announcement is finally made, Mr. Brown will have the full exclusive inside story all ready for print."
"So heís been with your party for a while?"
"For almost a year now. Science Times considers this the story of the century."
Steve nodded. "Do you know a Mr. Jeff Barr?"
"Again, only after meeting him on the ship."
"Tell me about Jase Hobkins. What he does, what heís like."
Despite herself, Mrs. Vance blushed. "Well heís the lead assistant on the project. He organizes notes, files, sets up equipment, records measurements. A sort of glorified errand boy in a high-tech way. But I think the project would collapse without his organizational skills. As for what heís like, heís a good, kind, honest man."
"Did you notice your husband drinking wine before you left?"
Mrs. Vance cocked her head at the shift in topics but answered quickly. "No. Ernest rarely drinks alcohol, he prided himself on his thinking and despised anything which affected that."
"Thank you Mrs. Vance. I may have further questions for you later. I ask that you do not discuss our conversation with anyone else."
Mrs. Vance rose and walked to the door. Before leaving she turned and said, "Mr. Whiley, my husband and I had our differences. I may not have loved him anymore, but he was in many ways still my friend. He may have been riding on his past accomplishments but he was still a most brilliant man and the universe has precious few truly brilliant men in it. I wish you the best of luck and God speed in finding his killer."
After she had left, Steve turned to Trish and asked, "What do you think?"
"I think sheís telling the truth." Trish said flatly. "I think she was with Jase when her husband was killed. And since youíre pretty sure Jase is being framed, that makes her innocent."
"On the other-hand she and Jase might have conspired to kill him. They are having an affair after all. It would be a crime of passion. The clues left behind might be unintentional or the clues may have been planted deliberately to make it look like an obvious frame."
"Iím confused again." Trish admitted.
Steve smiled. "So am I. Only twelve more people to interview." Steve pressed the call button and said, "Miko, please ask Jase Hobkins to join us."
"Right away Mr. Whiley. The Captain asked me to inform you that our data links will be going down for the next three days. There seems to be a malfunction in the laser. We can still use Teledata for important communications however."
"Was the Captain able to obtain the passenger biographies before the data link went down?"
"No Mr. Whiley."
"Thank you Miko."
"I will send Mr. Hobkins in right away as you requested." She bowed her head slightly and the picture disappeared.
The man who entered the room was large and powerful looking. The type of man one would expect to see working at the docks lifting heavy cargo, yet there was a thoughtful expression to his face, and the glimmer of sharp intelligence behind his blue eyes. He made his way easily to the chair and seated himself, gazing at Steve and Trish much as one would gaze at two coiled cobras.
Steve looked up from his notes and smiled. "Good morning Mr. Hobkins. I need to ask you a few questions, some of them may be of a personal nature."
He nodded. "I understand."
"When was the last time you saw Mr. Vance alive?"
"That would have been around five oíclock when he burst in on Grace and I in the Gym."
"Did you argue?"
"No. He called attention to himself and demanded Grace return with him to his room."
"Is this the first time Mr. Vance caught you two together?"
"Is this the first time you were caught together?"
Jase leaned back in his chair and thought. "No. Barry walked in on us two months ago, shortly before we left the moon."
"Did anyone else see you together yesterday afternoon?"
"I donít think so. I wasnít really paying attention."
"When did you next see Mrs. Vance?"
"Shortly after six."
"Was she upset?"
"Yes. She said Mr. Vance had argued with her, that he had threatened her, and he had come close to striking her. She told me she wanted a divorce as soon as we reached Mars."
"Are you aware the timing of the divorce would cause significant hardships in the future?"
"Yes." Jase replied. "In my opinion it would have been worth it."
"In what capacity did you work for Mr. Vance?"
"I organized the project; coordinated the help, took notes, scheduled trials, worked the bureaucracy to obtain permits, moved equipment. You name it, I did it."
"Were you satisfied in your job?"
"Yes. I found it very rewarding."
"Does the wormhole work?"
"On the moon at least. It didnít matter if the two ends were right next to each other, or on the other side of the globe. No one had any reason to doubt that it would work between the moon and mars or the moon and Europa. This trip is just a formality to ensure the research is as compete as we could make it."
"Tell me a bit about Tanner Brown."
"The reporter? Not much to say. Heís always hanging around, asking questions. Nice enough fellow even if he is gay."
"Did you sleep with him?"
"I donít swing that way."
"What do you know of Paul Davis?"
Jase shifted uncomfortably and lowered his gaze. "Heís a nice enough fellow. Weíve had several chats since heís been aboard."
"What were the nature of those chats?"
"Just genera chit-chat; sports, politics, space travel. He plays chess and so do I, weíve gotten together for more than a few games this trip."
"Was Mr. Davis interested in your wormhole project?"
"Yes. We talked about it in a general manner. Mostly itís impact on space exploration."
"Have you also talked with Jeff Barr?"
"Only hello. Weíve bumped into each other a few times on board ship."
"Were you aware that Dr. Vance was appropriating Barry Goldís work?"
"Yes. I didnít approve."
"Did Mr. Gold seem uncomfortable with the idea?"
"You know itís odd, but he wasnít. Iíd swear the kid practically worshipped the ground Dr. Vance walked on."
"Tell me about Janet Dawson?"
"Sheís Barryís fiancee. Pretty and smart to boot. I donít see her very often."
"Have you been sleeping with anyone other than Grace Vance?"
Jase shifted uncomfortably at the sudden shift in questions and answered, "No."
"Are you in the employ of anyone other than the former Doctor Vance?"
After a slight pause he answered, "No."
"Do you love Grace?"
"Do you plan to marry her?"
"I havenít thought about it. I think I will though."
"Have you been to India recently?"
"Why as a matter of fact I have. My brother lives there and I visited him right before we left."
"Thank you Mr. Hobkins. I may have further questions for you later on."
"Anytime." Jase answered as he rose.
After he left Trish turned to Steve and let out a deep breath. "Wow, the tension in the room was so thick you could cut it with a knife."
Steve nodded thoughtfully. "Jase Hobkins is a man with secrets to hide Trish."
"Do you think he did it?"
"Iím not sure. I believe heís capable of it. He has a motive. But there is one thing that saves him at the present?"
"I believe Mrs. Vance."
Steve pressed the call button and Miko appeared on the screen. "Miko will you please join us for a few minutes? Iíd like to get your testimony now."
"Right away Mr. Whiley." She said, bowing slightly as the image faded.
"This wonít take very long I hope Miko." Steve said. After she remained silent, Steve began. "You say you received a call from Mr. Vance at six oí two?"
"Did you notice anyone in the halls either shortly before or after that?"
"Shortly after the call, Mr. Brown passed my station, I believe he was heading for the rec room."
"Is he the only person you saw?"
"When the captain asked you to find Mrs. Vance, how did you locate her?"
Miko blushed slightly. "I have seen Mrs. Vance and Mr. Hobkins when they are near to each other, they are close friends. I visited Mr. Hobkins room first. They were together."
"Very observant." Miko made not reply to that. "Did you notice anything at all between six and six-thirty that may be of any help?"
"No. Iím very sorry."
Steve shook his head dismissively. "No need to apologize. When you and Lieutenant Alexander searched the rooms last night did you find anything?"
"No Mr. Whiley. We found no knives. There was no blood on anyoneís tunics."
"Youíve collected them all then?"
"Yes Sir. They are labeled very well."
"While you were searching did anyone appear nervous or apprehensive?"
"Not that I could see Mr. Whiley."
"When you explained there had been a murder, did anyone react unusually?"
"They all seemed genuinely surprised sir."
Steve sighed. "Thank you Miko. Please send Barry Gold in next."
Miko rose, bowed slightly and left gracefully.
"I like her." Trish said. "Sheís very polite."
"That she is."
"Not very helpful though."
"Helpful enough." Steve said. "One of the hardest things about a murder is determining the time of death. Thanks to Miko we have it narrowed down to a nice half hour span."
Trish nodded. "Interesting there was no blood found on the tunics."
"I have a theory about that." Steve said.
"Care to enlighten me?"
Steve smiled. "Think on it a bit."
The man who entered the cabin next was thin as a rail, and though he was otherwise an attractive man he entered the room in a gloom. "Mr. Whiley?" He asked.
Steve nodded. "Please have a seat Mr. Gold." After Barry had been seated Steve continued, "I have to ask you a few questions, a few may be rather personal."
"OK." Barry said.
"Dr. Vance was murdered between six and six-thirty last night. Where were you during that time?"
"Asleep in my cabin with Janet." Barry answered.
"Six is very early to be retiring."
Barry blushed. "Well we decided to find out what zero G sex was like. It was strenuous."
"I see. How long have you known Dr. Vance?"
"Heís been my mentor for close to four years now."
"You admired him?"
Barry leaned forward. "Very much! The man was a genius! His theory on gravitational wavelets is as important and as profound as relativity itself."
"And yet he was stealing your work."
Barry leaned back. "It was our work Mr. Whiley. The theory was his, I had an interesting idea of how to exploit it and he worked with me on developing that idea."
"So you saw yourself in partnership with him?"
"No. I was his student. He was my friend."
"Are you aware of how your relationship would affect the financial distribution?"
"I am. But weíre talking huge here. Doctor Vance had promised me 20% of the project, the rest of the 5% to be distributed among the rest of the staff. That 20% will get me far, far more money than I could ever hope to spend in one or even a hundred lifetimes."
"How about the prestige? It might have been his theory, but it was your idea. History will record Doctor Earnest Vance as the father of the wormhole."
"And he deserves that recognition. As you say it was his theory. And I have years and years ahead of me. Right now it takes a machine at each point to create the wormhole. That means to travel to the stars we first have to send out a probe before we can open up a link. But I have a theory on how to create a stable wormhole with only ONE machine. After I got my doctorate and was doing my own research, thatís what would get me my Nobel. Iíd go down in history as the man who gave humanity the stars."
"More than enough glory to share then?"
"Are you aware Doctor Vanceís wife was having an affair?"
Barry crossed his arms. "Yes. Several I saw her and Jase a few months ago."
"Did you mention the affair to anyone?"
"Only to Janet. I have no secrets from her."
"Congratulations are in order I hear."
Barry beamed. "Yes. Weíre going to hold a ceremony on Mars a few weeks after we arrive."
"I see on the passenger manifest that Janet Dawson has no profession listed, is this accurate?"
"Yes. I met her on campus when she was a first year med student. She decided she wasnít cut out for medicine but by then we were pretty much an item, and Iíve enough money for us to both live on comfortably."
"Before your, activities last afternoon did you and Janet share a drink?"
Barry looked at Steve quizzically, "Yes we did actually. How did you know?"
"Just a guess Mr. Gold. You are certain the wormhole works?"
"Do you know a Mr. Tanner Brown?"
"Yes. Heís the Science Times reporter, heís been covering our project."
"Have you had any difficulties with him?"
"None at all. Heís been very discrete and I rather like him."
"Do you know a Mr. Paul Davis, his wife, or Kathy Kneed?"
"Only by bumping into them on the ship."
"What about Jeff Barr?"
"The teleport engineer? We had a few chats on board. Nice enough fellow, very sharp on his physics."
"Thank you Mr. Gold, that will be all for now. I may have further questions for you later on."
Barry nodded and left the room.
"This is so frustrating!" Trish mumbled after he left. "All the people with the strongest motives seem so sincere."
"These are all extraordinarily bright people Trish, and I believe the murder was well planned, meticulously planned in fact. No one is going to walk into this room and act in such a way that we will know immediately that he or she is the murderer."
"Then whatís the point of the interviews?"
"The interviews give us more information than we had before, and information is our friend and the murdererís enemy. Already things begin to fall into place."
"And youíre not going to tell me what those things are, are you?" Trish pouted.
"I would not presume to rub your nose in the facts." Steve smiled. Pressing the call button Steve said to Miko, "Please send in Janet Dawson."
"Good morning Ms. Dawson." Steve said as the pretty woman entered the cabin. "Please have a seat." As she moved, he couldnít help noticing how similar in stature she was to Mrs. Vance though they were several decades apart in ages.
"Thank you Mr. Whiley. I hope you are making good progress on finding Doctor Vanceís Killer."
"There have been some important clues." Steve admitted. "But these interviews will serve to place those clues in context. I have a few questions for you, a few of them may be of a personal nature."
"I will answer to the best of my abilities."
"Where were you last afternoon between six and six-thirty ships time?"
"In my cabin with my fiancee."
"Mr. Gold informed us you were a medical student before you gave it up."
"That is correct. I found I was squeamish at the sight of blood. That is not a very good quality for a doctor to have."
"And now you will be a homemaker for your husband?"
"It is an honorable career."
"Indeed it is. Were you aware Mrs. Vance and Jase Hobkins were having an affair?"
"Barry mentioned it to me several weeks ago. It did not surprise me."
"Why didnít it surprise you?"
"I had noticed a certain tenderness between the two of them for almost a year now, as well as a friction between Jase and Dr. Vance."
"So Dr. Vance and Mr. Hobkins were not on friendly terms?"
"Oh professionally they were friendly enough. But there always seemed to be some unspoken stress between them when they were together. I had the impression they did not really like each other."
"Were you aware Dr. Vance was appropriating Mr. Goldís work?"
Janet frowned. "Yes. I didnít like it one bit, but Barry absolutely worshipped Dr. Vance. He assured me that whoever got credit we were all going to end up absurdly wealthy. He also assured me that he had another idea that would earn him more than enough fame later on."
"Are you on favorable terms with Jase Hobkins?"
"I like to think so, yes."
"With Grace Vance?"
"Yes. Weíre not fast friends or anything, but weíre civil enough to each other."
"Have you ever slept with Jase Hobkins?"
"Do you know a Mr. Davis?"
"Yes, Iíve seen him and Jase together fairly often."
"Before this trip?"
"At least twice on the moon."
"That is interesting. Are you aware that Mr. Davis is the director for NexCor?"
"The shipping firm? No I was not."
"Do you know a Mr. Tanner Brown?"
"Yes. Heís the reporter for Science Times. He always seemed pleasant enough, even if a bit nosy."
"Do you believe Jase Hobkins capable of murder?"
Janet paused. "Before yesterday I would have said no. But considering he was having an affair with Dr. Vanceís wife, I think he may very well have done it."
"And if I told you that Mrs. Vance said she was with Jase at the time of the murder?"
Janet thought a moment. "I do not think I would be terribly surprised if they were both involved in the murder."
"We found no physical evidence to support that conclusion."
Janetís eyebrow arched slightly. "Well Iím not an investigator, my opinions are of course completely uninformed speculation."
"Do you know a Jack Barr?"
"Yes. Heís had several conversations with Barry since weíve been on board. They tend to get very technical, I usually donít sit in on their conversations."
"Thank you Ms. Dawson. I may have further questions for you later on. But for now you have been most helpful."
"Why thank you." Janet said.
Trish leaned over and said, "She makes a strong case against Mrs. Vance and Mr. Hobkins."
"That she does." Jack said as he pressed the call button. "Miko, since it is nearly lunch time, I would like to dine with the Captain and the Lieutenant. Afterwards I would like to interview in this order, Tanner Brown, Paul Davis, Myrial Davis, Kathy Kneed, and Jack Barr."
"Very good Mr. Whiley. The Captain had hoped you would dine with him regardless. I shall make the arrangements, say lunch in two hours?"
"That should be fine."
"What are we going to do for two hours?" Trish asked. Steve smiled knowingly. "Oh." Trish smiled back.
"Do you think any of the people weíve seen so far is the murderer?" Trish asked as Steve pulled at her zipper.
"Itís possible. Why donít you tell me what you think of our interviews so far while we play?"
Trishís eyes grew wide as Steve lowered himself between her legs. "That is SO naughty!" She scolded.
"You mean thinking on a mystery while having sex is perverted?" Steve asked slyly.
"In a word, yes." Trish said. "But I like it."
"Good." Steve said as he lowered his mouth to her waiting pussy.
"Hmm. This is going to be fun. Well let's start back on the moon. Oh! Thatís nice! Jase Hobkins, whoís our primary suspect at this point is caught doing the nasty with Grace by Barry, who mentions it to Janet. Probably caught doing what youíre doing to me right now, God this is so damn weird! Hmmmm. Janet says thereís some tension between Jase and Dr. Vance, she also says Jase has been meeting with Paul Davis before they ever met here. OHHH! Damn if you keep doing that, this is going to get really, really hard."
"Thatís not the only thing thatís really, really hard right now," Steve said mischievously.
"I think thereís some serious backdoor politics going on here. In addition to the affair, Jase is probably selling project research to Paul Davis. If everything works as everyone seems to think it is, itís probably in Mr. Davisí interest to either sabotage the project or delay it long enough to develop his own wormhole. But that goes right back to incriminating Jase and Mrs. Vance. Yes!" She moaned as she ran her fingers through his hair. "This is so damn sexy."
"But the thing is, oooooh!, I believe Mrs. Vance. That means Jase really does have an alibi. And Barry and Janet were together. So Iím, Iím, Oh God! Iím cumming!"
"Not bad!" Steve said as he floated up beside her, letting one hand trace delicately around her breasts. "You were paying attention."
"And Iím still lost." Trish said.
"There were a few subtle points you seemed to have missed though." Steve said.
"Maybe you can expound them while I return a favor?" Trish suggested.
"I think Iíll let you think on it a little more. You seem to have so much fun figuring these things out for yourself."
Trish sighed before delicately wrapping her luscious lips around his engorged cock.
Lunch consisted of little more than dry ration bars and tea served from squeeze tubes. Ordinarily, such simple fare was consumed in the privacy of oneís cabin, but this was more a meeting than lunch.
"Have you made any progress Mr. Whiley?" The Captain asked as they entered.
"Some. Iíve a few theories at the moment, none of which Iím ready to share."
"Iím terribly sorry about the lost data link. Apparently one of the circuits on the communicationís laser has malfunctioned."
Steve snickered. "It wouldnít be the AE-35 unit would it?"
The captainís face was a puzzled blank as he missed the private joke. "Iím not familiar with that. We do have a teledata unit on board, but it has a limited capacity and weíre saving it for important messages and the final data transfer when the home office has the passenger data compiled."
"Have you made any progress on the outside search?"
The captain turned to a tall blond man next to him. "Your report Mr. Alexander?"
"Iíve found nothing yet. But thatís not surprising. The asteroid is actually very large and since we donít know the angle of the orbit Iíve had to make a painstaking survey. I do not have much hope of finding anything."
"Did you find anything unusual in your search of the passenger cabins?" Steve asked.
"Nothing." The lieutenant said. "But I do not have an eye trained for such things, it may very well be that I missed something."
"Did you notice any unusual reactions when you informed the passengers of the murder?" Steve asked.
"Nothing really stood out, no. There were various reactions from shock, curiosity, worry, confusion. But nothing drew my attention as being out of the ordinary."
"You and Miko collected the passengerís clothing?"
"Yes sir. As was instructed, everything has been appropriately labeled."
"We may have had a break in that Whitestar requires itís passengers to wear ship issued jumpsuits." Steve commented.
"It really isnít that unusual." The captain said. "Jumpsuits are best suited for zero G environments. Theyíre easy to put on and get out of, and they do not tend to float up in inappropriate places. Do you believe the killer has made a mistake?"
"Perhaps. If we find the evidence outside, then the killer has made a mistake. It may be that the killer has made a mistake with the jumpsuit, though I doubt it."
"Miko tells me that you only have five more people to interview. Will you be able to solve the case then?" The captain asked.
"I believe I will be able to solve it, as for physical proof that may be much, much harder. I would urge Mr. Alexander to be very meticulous in his search."
"I will do my utmost I assure you." The Lieutenant said.
"And you Ms. Carter, what do you think of all this?"
Trish smiled. "I think it is fascinating to watch Steve at work. But Iím quite lost I assure you."
"Good afternoon Mr. Brown." Steve said as a dark, smallish man entered the cabin.
"Iím honored to meet you Mr. Whiley. Most gratified as well." Tanner replied.
"Youíve heard of me?"
"I follow the press, itís my nature of course. You were the lead investigator on the Rose Stalker back with the FBI. I believe you also tracked down and apprehended the Foritha Terrorists before they could detonate a nuke in Miami when you were with the CIA. A very impressive career."
"Thank you. You realize of course why I asked to see you."
"Oh of course. Iím no doubt an abundance of information about the case."
"Why donít you share with me some of that abundance."
"Well going strictly to motive, thereís a lot here. If you want to accuse Barry Gold, you only have to know that Doctor Vance was stealing Barryís research. We all knew it, even Barry. But Iíll give the Kid credit for being a better person than I would, he didnít seem to care. Jase Hobkins was selling research and test results to Paul Davis."
"Really?" Steve said leaning forward.
"Oh yes. I donít think they saw me, but I spied Jase passing a rather large folder on to Mr. Davis back at the lunar research facility."
"Interesting." Steve said as he jotted a note. "Please continue."
"Iím not terribly sure, but I also think Jase and Mrs. Vance were having an affair. Itís more a suspicion really."
"So that would go to Mrs. Vanceís motive." Steve noted. "Do you know a Jack Barr?"
"Yes. Heís a teleport engineer we met on board. He and Barry have had a few chats. Iíve slept with him a few times to break the monotony."
"Do you believe Barry is also selling research?"
Tanner thought a moment. "No. I think they may have talked about the theory, but Barry would do that with anyone who could understand him. It would not be in his interest anyway. Heís going to be a very rich person, credit or not."
"Where were you between six and six-thirty yesterday?"
"At six I left for the rec-room, I spent an hour working out."
Steve nodded. "Did you pass anyone on your way to the rec-room?"
"I wouldnít say pass. I saw Mrs. Vance go into Jase Hobkins Cabin. I passed Miko at the purserís desk on my way to the rec-room."
"Who do you think killed Dr. Vance?" Steve asked.
"If pressed, I would say, Jase, Grace, and then Barry in that order."
"What about Paul Davis? Surely with billions if not trillions of dollars at stake he would have motive."
"I suppose he would, but surely a man like that would hire a professional. "
"Perhaps, but he is hands on enough to see to the theft of research personally." Steve noted. "But this is only wild theory. You also left off Janet Dawson."
"Well thereís not much motive for her to have done it."
"Maybe Jack Barr then?"
Tanner laughed. "Jackís probably the last man on the list of suspects. Youíll understand when you interview him."
"Thank you Mr. Brown. I may have further questions later on."
"Anytime. It has been a rare pleasure watching you work. If you donít mind, may I take your picture?"
"You plan to publish our story?"
"Of course! This is the story of the century! The first murder in space!"
Steve sighed. "Try not to portray me as some larger than life hero. Remember I still have to live in the world, and it wonít be very easy for me to do that if I continually disappoint everyone for not living up to their ideas of me."
Tanner laughed as he pulled out a small vid camera and took a few sweeping shots.
Paul Davis was very confident and self assured as he took his seat. He very much looked like a man who ran the affairs of a billion dollar multinational company.
"Good afternoon Mr. Davis." Steve said. "Iíd like to begin by advising you that though I am investigating this murder, I have no official capacity in law enforcement at the present. I therefore ask that you be candid with me, though it may reveal illegalities on your part. So long as your activities do not touch on the murder, I will not be obligated to divulge any improprieties."
"Then you already know Iíve been buying research results." Mr. Davis said, suddenly on guard.
"From Mr. Hobkins, is this correct?"
Mr. Davis sighed. "Yes it is. We in the shipping business can survive in the age of the teleport because somehow the raw teleport material has to be shipped from point A to point B. The wormhole bypasses all of that. Thanks to the information we obtained from Mr. Hobkins we were developing our own wormhole. The timing was tricky, but there was a very good chance that we would share in the patents. This would allow my company to survive and even prosper."
"So in actuality, the death of Dr. Vance is a good thing for your company since it will cause a delay in their research, allowing you more time to finish your prototype."
"Stated that way, yes. But I assure you, neither I nor my company had anything to do with Dr. Vanceís untimely demise."
"Were you in contact with any other member of the research project?"
"No. I tried to be as discrete as possible."
"Where were you between six and six-thirty yesterday afternoon?"
"In my cabin."
"Yes. Myrial had decided she wanted to get out and explore a little."
"Do you know a Jack Barr?"
"I met him on board. Heís a teleport engineer, apparently traveling to mars on vacation, though I find that odd."
"Well Iíve never met anyone from teleport yet who didnít actually use teleport for travel, especially since it costs them nothing."
"Thank you Mr. Davis. I may have other questions for you later on."
After Mr. Davis had left Trish leaned over and asked, "Why so short?"
"He didnít do it." Steve said.
"How do you know?"
"Because the murder will uncover exactly what he doesnít want uncovered. The fact that he has been stealing their research. That will nullify his patents."
The prim, proper lady sitting before them looked every inch the wife of a director of a large multinational corporation.
"Good afternoon Mrs. Davis. I have just a few questions for you, a formality really."
"Of course." She answered.
"Where were you between six and six-thirty yesterday afternoon?"
"I was taking a stroll around the ship. It gets awfully boring in the cabin sometimes."
"Did you see anyone while you were out and about?"
"I saw Mr. Brown in the rec-room doing some exercises, but no one else. Mostly I was in the viewing gallery watching the stars. They are so beautiful."
"Do you know, or have any impressions about the other people on board?"
"Other than my husband and Kathy? No, Iím afraid not."
"Are you aware your husband was purchasing research on the wormhole project from Mr. Hobkins?"
"I really do not concern myself with my husbandís business Mr. Whiley."
"What do you concern yourself with Mrs. Davis?" Steve asked pointedly.
"Why, what a wife of a prominent business man should concern herself with Mr. Whiley. I hold social events, meet with the wives of his executives, manage the household, and a million other things that make us both very successful."
Steve sighed. "Can you think of anything that may help me in this investigation, however trivial."
"No. Iím afraid not."
"Very well. I may have other questions for you later on."
"Thank you Mr. Whiley. Iím sorry I couldnít be of much help."
After she had left Trish shuddered and said, "That woman is totally consumed by her husbandís life."
"Maybe." Steve said. "She is a very fine actress and plays her part well I think. But everyone has their own lives. I think that if we dug beneath the surface what we found would surprise you."
"You are Mr. Davisí secretary?" Steve asked of the pretty woman sitting before him.
"Yes." Steve started to ask something further but she interrupted. "Before you continue there are a few other things you should know. I know this is not an official investigation, but I do know murder is very serious and I have no desire to be a part of that particular intrigue."
Steve sat back. "Please continued."
"Iím Mr. Davisí secretary, itís true, for close to five years now. Iím a very good secretary. But I also work for TransCor, a competitor of NexCor. I obtain information that I think may be of value to my employer and pass it on."
Steve nodded. "I actually suspected as much, though it was only a very small suspicion. This information of course included the wormhole research Mr. Davis was obtaining from Mr. Hobkins."
Kathy raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I think I did right by coming clean with you if you figured that much out for yourself. Yes, the wormhole research was the majority of the information I passed along."
"Youíve been having an affair with Mr. Davis?"
"On and off, when he needed it. Itís not strictly a part of the job description but it is expected if not engraved in stone."
"Did you ever meet with any of the researchers of the wormhole project?"
"I met a few of them for the first time on-board. The short answer is I wasnít on a first name basis with anyone."
"Do you know a Jack Barr?"
"Only by bumping into him on-board."
"Do you think Mr. Davis has the capacity to have murdered Dr. Vance?"
Kathy sat back and thought. "Mr. Davis can be ruthless. When you head up a multibillion dollar corporation you are swimming with the sharks literally. Such men donít survive on things like compassion or humanity. So in answer to your question, I believe the answer is yes. If you ask if I think he did it, Iíd say no. It would interfere with his plans."
"But not TransCor." Steve said pointedly.
"No." Kathy said. "Their link is further removed thanks to me. This is why I decided to be very candid with you. If I tried to hide my link to TransCor and you uncovered it, I would become a suspect."
"It is something I will consider. Where were you between six and six-thirty yesterday?"
"In my cabin, organizing files and notes for Mr. Davis."
"Thank you for your testimony and candor Ms. Kneed." Steve said. "I may have further questions for you later on."
"I will be at your beck and call." She answered before leaving.
"Very suspicious that one." Trish said. "She actually has motive, I can see her sharing wine with Dr. Vance, and sheís tough as nails beneath that pretty exterior."
The terminal lit up and Miko appeared on the screen. "Mr. Whiley? The Captain has asked me to inform you that Lieutenant Alexander has found a large knife and a hammer, outside. He asks me to tell you that there may be other evidence and they are still searching."
Steve leaned back, bringing his hands up to his mouth as he thought on that. Finally, after a few moments said, "Thank you Miko. That answers one of the questions I still had. Please send in Jack Barr."
The man sitting across from them was very small, standing about five feet tall. He was physically the weakest man Steve could remember seeing in a very long time. In addition to that, the man very much looked his role as an engineer.
"Good afternoon Mr. Barr. I have a few questions Iíd like to ask."
"You work for teleport?"
"If I may ask, why are you traveling in this manner?"
"Not everyone at teleport is enamored of the process. I prefer to keep my molecules intact."
"The manifest also says you are on vacation?"
"Teleport is a very generous company to allow you a what, twenty week vacation?"
Jack coughed. "Well itís more a leave of absence."
"And your presence here with researchers who are developing a competing product is merely a coincidence?"
Jack turned beet red. "In truth, no. Teleport found out about the wormhole experiments, I was asked to travel and find out if there was any truth to the reports."
"And you discovered?"
"After talking with Barry, I believe the device will revolutionize everything."
"And put teleport out of business?"
"Teledata may survive, but teleport as a means of travel will go the way of the horse and buggy."
"This disturbs you?"
"Not at all! Thereís always demand for a good engineer."
"Where were you between six and six-thirty yesterday?"
"In my cabin doing some research on gravitational wavelets."
"Other than Barry Gold have you talked with anyone else aboard?"
"Tanner Brown and I have talked on occasion. But as for the others, no. I was really interested only in the theories behind the wormhole."
"You and Mr. Brown are lovers?"
Jack blushed again. "Friends or acquaintances really. Iím usually not so free with who I have relationships with, but as the only other gay man on board, he offered some diversion to the routine."
"Thank you Mr. Barr. I may have other questions for you later on."
"Well this is an interesting puzzle." Trish said after they returned to their cabin.
"Yes it is. Do you know who did it yet?"
"You mean you do?"
Steve nodded. "The evidence found outside was the last link."
"Who?" Trish demanded.
"Think on it a bit. Iíll help you out with the clues. See if you can put it together. Youíve after all been privy to every moment of the investigation. Everythingís there if you look for it."
"OK. Iíll play your game. The clues, lessee, that would be the wine, the blood, the coin, and the hairs."
"Dismiss the coin and the hairs. They might or might not have been plants. But since the possibility exists that they are plants, ignore them and go with the other evidence."
"Hmm. That only leaves the wine and the blood."
"Youíre forgetting the wound itself. A single blow, delivered powerfully enough to crack the ribs."
"I remember now. You said that was contradictory evidence. Men donít ordinarily share wine and the blow was powerful as if delivered from a strong man. The only really powerful man aboard is Mr. Hobkins."
"And the other evidence points to him as well." Steve said. "But remember also our conversation at the crime scene."
"Because everyone knows the killer is aboard, the killer would go to great pains to make sure that someone else was blamed. Or something like that. Unless of course it was a crime of passion."
"Now consider what was found outside."
"A knife and a hammer. Why a hammer?"
"Think on it a second." Steve prompted. "You can figure it out."
"To deliver a powerful blow!" Trish said in awe after a moment. "But thatís silly! Surely Dr. Vance did not just sit there while the victim poised a knife at his chest and strike it with a hammer."
"Yes that is a puzzle." Steve admitted. "At least until you put it in context with the other facts."
Trish thought a few minutes on that. "The wine, could it have been drugged?"
"Very nice!" Steve said. "Iím assuming it would be a drug that left almost no trace unless it was being specifically looked for of course. When we reach mars weíll have them check for just such a class of drugs Ė something which would leave the victim immobile or unconscious."
"The killer was a woman!" Trish exclaimed.
"That means either Mr. Hobkins was covering for Grace and thus an accomplice, or it was one of the other women."
"Yes. It does tend to narrow the suspect list down to five people."
"There are six women aboard." Trish said slyly.
"And I was getting a heavenly blow job by one of them at the time and she has an alibi." Steve smiled.
"I doubt Miko was in on it." Trish said. "And Mrs. Davis just seems too artificial to do anything so vulgar."
"I guess that leaves Mrs. Vance, Ms. Kneed, and Ms. Dawson." Steve said.
"But Mrs. Vance has an alibi. She was with Mr. Hobkins. Mr. Hobkins vouches for her and Mr. Brown said he saw her enter Mr. Hobkins room. Besides I believe her. So itís really only two people."
"Yes. Iím sure the killer didnít plan on Mrs. Vance being seen by Mr. Brown. Itís one of the problems with murder. No matter how well you plan things, something usually goes wrong. The testimony of Miko and Mr. Brown and the timing of it all tend to exclude Mrs. Vance." Steve said.
Trish studied the desk intently for several minutes before slowly raising her eyes to meet Steveís gaze. "It was Janet Dawson!"
Steveís eyes twinkled. "What gave her away?"
"The wine was drugged! Janet was a med student!"
"But she had an alibi," Steve reminder her playfully.
"Barry was asleep!" Trish jerked the notebook around to her and typed in a few commands. "Barry said that he and Janet had a drink before they had sex! Itís right here! Iíll bet she slipped him a mickey! Barry was asleep, but Janet said only she was resting!"
"Youíd probably win your bet." Steve said. "Thereís another couple of points against her as well though they are very subtle."
"Iím sorry Steve, Iíve played myself out, and I canít even begin to guess at motive."
"I suppose money and power would do as a motive. The prestige of being the wife of the man who invented the wormhole would likely be far greater than the prestige of being the wife of the man who worked to develop the wormhole. No doubt if we do a psychological work-up of her personality weíll find a deep need to be around power. But thatís really conjecture at this point."
"So what are the other points?"
"She has the same general build as Mrs. Vance. They could probably wear each otherís jumpsuits quite easily."
Steve nodded. "No doubt she cleaned it off, but knew full well it wouldnít survive a deep DNA probe. Again, as a medical student she would be familiar with chemicals that would remove blood. I would hazard a guess that after arriving she offered Dr. Vance some wine and shortly thereafter excused herself to visit the bathroom. She probably lifted one of Mrs. Vanceís spare suits and probably put it on over her own. No doubt the DNA tests will find traces of Dr. Vanceís blood on one of Mrs. Vanceís suits."
"So she was really framing both Mrs. Vance and Mr. Hobkins!" Trish exclaimed.
"Exactly. There was another subtle point as well."
"She was the only person we interviewed other than Tanner Brown who suggested motives of others with little prompting. Mr. Brown had a solid alibi."
"Ahhh. I never would have noticed that."
"I think with practice you would have." Steve said.
Trish frowned. "But how to prove it? All the physical evidence still points to Mr. Hobkins."
"That really isnít a problem at all." Steve said. "Though all this was elaborately planned, she was to smart for her own good and actually made several crucial mistakes."
"Like assuming whoever investigated would take the evidence she planted at face value."
"Right, thatís one."
"She also didnít expect the murder weapon to be recovered." Trish frowned. "But the radiation and vacuum in space would destroy any DNA evidence. She may have even stolen the knife from Mr. Hobkins."
"True." Steve admitted. "But I think the drugs she used will be uncovered once they are being looked for, and no doubt an investigation will reveal she had access to or purchased the drugs in question. Also a DNA sweep of the jumpsuits would reveal the blood, a more thorough sweep should show that Ms. Dawson was inexplicably close to that suit. Something in light of motive, means, and opportunity will be very hard for her to explain."
"Ah!" Trish said. "How long have you known she was the culprit?"
"I suspected her after our interview with Mrs. Vance. Each subsequent interview only served to confirm my suspicions. When Miko told me of the hammer, I knew beyond a reasonable doubt."
"But what about the hairs? How did she get Mr. Hobkinís hairs?"
"They may have slept together once. Maybe Mr. Hobkins visited their home and she just gathered what she found. Any number of explanations would suffice really."
"Iím impressed." Trish admitted.
"So am I." Steve said. "You unraveled it quite nicely on your own."
"But not all the way, and certainly not as quickly as you did." Trish said. "She spent how long planning all this, weeks, months? You had her figured out in hours."
"Aw shucks." Steve said bashfully.
"I think you deserve some sort of reward." Trish said intently.
"Well maybe we ought to fill in the Captain first."
"Itís not like sheís going to rush off and kill again Steve! I think an hour or so wouldnít do any harm!"
"An hour or so?" Steve asked incredulously.
"Mr. Whiley! Mr. Whiley!" Tanner Brown called from across the busy space port. Steve glanced over and saw the intrepid reporter and paused, waiting for the man to catch up with him. "Iím glad I caught up with you!"
"I saw your story in Time." Steve said. "Very flattering. Exactly the sort of garbage that Iím going to have to spend the rest of my life trying to live up to."
"It was only the truth Mr. Whiley." The reporter said defensively. "Before any of the physical evidence could be analyzed, before any psychological profiles drawn up, before any passenger histories could be delivered you had the killer dead to rights and behind bars, well behind a locked door anyway."
"Whatever." Steve replied. "So what brings you to the spaceport today?"
"Well, Science Times is owned by a larger media company. They want to buy the VR rights to your story." Steve started laughing. "Really Mr. Whiley, this is a substantial amount of money!"
Steve wiped a tear from his eye. "Mr. Brown, Iím a private detective. I enjoy what I do, and I like to think Iím good at it. Iíve worked with enough famous clients to know exactly the price of fame, and I seriously doubt your company can meet that price."
"How does half a million new dollars sound?"
Despite himself Steve stopped and turned to consider the man. "No dickering Mr. Brown. Iíll give you exactly one more chance to name a figure, youíd better make it the highest number youíre authorized to make."
Tanner Brown considered Steve carefully. "One million new dollars."
"Nice." Steve said. "Let us discuss artistic license a moment. If for instance I wished the story to uncover corporate espionage and the theft of a fine young manís research, Iím assuming of course that would be a part of the story?"
"I think that could be arranged." The reporter said, his smile growing.
"And if I suggested the name of the detective be changed?"
"No doubt that screen writers would wish to choose a more adventurous name."
"Tell me, are you making the trip back?"
"Why as a matter of fact I am."
"Then Iíll accompany you to the ticket desk. It seems Whitestar has granted me and my guests free passage in perpetuity in gratitude for a certain small favor."
Tanner laughed. "That perpetuity wonít be all that long I assure you!"
"Then the mars-moon wormhole worked?"
"Flawlessly." Tanner said as they made their way to the ticket counter.