So now I'm proud to announce that over the next few months I will be posting weekly installments of a brand new project called "Murder On Deck 36" every Thursday. The story is a murder mystery taking place on a space station called "Hope."
Without further ado, I'd like to present the first installment of the weekly series "Murder On Deck 36."
- - - - -
Everything changes. That’s what they tell you, growing up. That over time, everything will change in one way or another. Hundred years from now, you’ll be dust, and some new punks will be running the whole world. Technology will change, status quo will change, who’s holding the power will change. Three hundred years ago the good ole’ U.S. Of A. Was rulin’ the world. Today there’s not even a world to rule any more. Earth is gone. Used up all its resources and left it to rot. That’s they kind of thing they tell you when you’re growing up, to convince you everything changes. They lie. There’s one thing that stays the same. Crime.
My name is Ryan North. I live in a giant tin can. The “Intergalactic Empire’s Star-Station Hope”. They put the “Intergalactic Empire” in the name to always remind you who owns the ground beneath your feet. They put the “Hope” in the name to let you know that there’s always something better on the horizon. Both are a joke. The “Intergalactic Empire” doesn’t exist, not really. Sure there’s a headquarters at the center of the thousand some Star-Stations posting around the ‘verse, but they don’t control anything. The “Hope” part, well you stop believing that part after a few years of seeing what this place is really like.
There are 210 decks on Hope. Each of them holds a few thousand people. There’s really three big areas you need to know about though. You’ve got the upper decks, the mid decks, and the lower decks. Mid decks are your typical. You’ve got office jobs there, good citizens of the empire, all that. Most people there live what you might call an average life. Nice quarters, loving spouse, two-point-five children, all that. Then you’ve got the upper deck. Those are the real high class type. The solar panels are on the upper deck, along with the offices where the president of the ship lives. I say “President”, but that title’s a joke. No one’s been voted into office on this ship in sixty years. The solar panels up top are what keep the ship alive, so the upper decks are pretty heavily locked down. If you’re not “essential” or very, very rich, you ain’t ever going to see the top floors. I hear they’ve got one deck where the floors, walls, and ceilings are lined with solid gold. ‘Course, the guy I heard that from ain’t ever seen a mid deck, let alone an upper floor, so I’m not sure how he’d know.
Finally, you’ve got the lower decks. That’s where I live. The lower decks are home to the engines. The things that make sure we don’t plunge into the star we’re orbiting. You’d think that’d mean that the rich sleaze up top would want to make sure the people running them are well taken care of, but that’s not so. The lower decks are slums. First of all, they’re smoky. The engines have vents that are supposed to vent the air out into space, but they haven’t worked right since long before I was born, and most the pollution just vents into the lower decks. There are some spots on these lower decks you can’t even breathe in any more. Half a deck was forced to leave because the pollution got so bad it was killin’ them not two years ago. The second thing is that the lower decks are dirty. Working the engines ain’t a clean job, and some part of these decks don’t even have running water. Add that in with the fact that the lower decks are about half the size of the mid decks, with double the population, and we gotta fit the enormous engines onto each deck, and things are a bit cramped. But the pollution, and the dirty, cramped quarters aren’t the worst part. The worst part is the noise.
The engines aren’t exactly quiet. In fact, imagine the loudest noise you can and then double it. That’s probably about half as loud as one engine, and each deck has half a dozen of them on it. You live with that your whole life and you get used to it, but it’s still not easy to hear yourself think half the time, let alone hear other people talk.
Life on the lower decks is anything but fun. Most people are just trying to survive it. But there are some who make that even more difficult than it already is. And those are the criminals. The gangs, and the independent criminals on the lower decks run rampant. Murderers, thieves, you name it and the lower decks have it. On the mid and upper decks you have two or three security stations on each deck. Get low enough down though and that cuts down to just one station per deck. Between the larger number of people on the lower decks, and the lower number of security, That means there just aren’t enough cops to control the decks. Most cops don’t even try any more. They just keep their heads down and hope they’ll be one of the lucky few who get transferred to a mid deck or an upper deck. Some do, and we don’t hear from them any more. Way I figure it, they’re trying to distance themselves from us. Must be too lowly for them or something. Some don’t, and they spend their whole lives just trying to survive. Still, there are a few good cops left. I’m one of them.
I live on deck 36 of 210. Decks 1-15 have been permanently sealed due to having such poor condition that they were no longer deemed habitable, pushing refugees onto the streets of the other, already overcrowded, decks like mine. Deck 36 has one of the highest crime rates in the whole station, next only to the decks that the crime lords call their home. The decks don’t start being even somewhat respectable until around Deck 50. The worst deck of all is deck 16, which rumor has it doesn’t even have a security station anymore, and has some crime lord running his “empire” out of it. But Deck 36 is still far from safe. I see good men and women die every day, and I see bad men and women— Cowards too afraid to fight —survive, whether they be cops who let the bad guys get away, or criminals who flee to kill some more people. Half of my life is death, it seems. And one specific death is where this story begins.
It had been a typical day for me when I got to the station. My life is better than most of the people on the lower decks. I have small quarters, just big enough for a bed, a bathroom, and a mini-fridge, but I have it all to myself which leaves me better off than the majority. In any case, after waking, I got something to eat and headed for the station. I carry my gun with me carefully as I make my way to the station every day. Cops are well known on the deck, and it’s not unusual for one to be assaulted on the way to the station.
As I got into the station and the rusty automatic door slowly creaked close behind me, I saw the chief. His name was Franklin Ericsson, but we never called him anything but “Chief”. He caught up to me before I could even make my way to the half broken table which passed for a table. “North. I’ve got a hit for you to look into.” The Chief said to me. “Just another typical day then?” I replied. He furrowed his eyebrows disapprovingly at me and said, “Watch that mouth North. You’d best keep your head down like the rest of us if you want to make it out of this place alive.” I’d heard the speech he was about to give before, so I promptly replied “Yes sir” before he could continue. He paused, frustrated, before saying “Yes, well.. The hit. Guy named Evan Taylor. He’s a doctor, runs a clinic not far from where you live.” I knew the clinic he was speaking about. It was as overcrowded as anything else, but the neon plus sign in front of the entrance drew my attention to it occasionally. “He was found dead this morning. Probably just some junkie looking for a fix, but you’d better go check it out.” I nodded affirmatively. Within minutes I was back outside.
As I took a deep breath and coughed, getting a lungful of smoke, I heard the deep roar of the engines. Whenever I heard them, it reminded me of how alive the station was. The people in it worked together to create a sort of personality. I passed some Chinese joint, the bright neon sign shining through the black smoke I was passing through. The streets in Hope are modeled after the streets of old Earth cities. Each deck is about three stories high, and laid out in a grid. The sidewalks used to be automated, but like a lot of other things on the lower decks, they broke a long time ago. The streets themselves are usually pretty empty. Seeing a car on the lower decks is pretty rare, since most people can’t afford one.
It took me twenty minutes or so to walk to the clinic. When I got there, some cops were already there preparing the crime scene for me to look at. The entrance to the clinic was guarded by a beat cop I didn’t know. I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my HoloID, flipping between my various identification until I saw my badge, and a particularly unflattering picture of myself, pop up onto the screen. As I flashed him my HoloID, he let me in. As I stepped into the clinic, I saw the body on the ground. Evan Taylor. A doctor. There was a decently sized medicine cabinet open in one of the corners of the room. There were two other people standing in the room as I entered, one who I knew, one who I didn’t. The one I knew was another cop, named Sarah Black. “Hello Sarah.” I said to her, as I walked up. “Ryan,” She said, “This is Mrs. Ashley Taylor.” Mrs. Taylor looked at me with her tear filled face, and choking on the words said “N-Nice to meet you.”
“I know this is hard for you ma’am, but can you please walk me through what happened?” I said to her. She swallowed, and held her sobs back for a moment before saying “Okay. I came into the clinic to surprise him and-” She paused for a moment and looked toward the body. “I found him like that.”
The body itself was on the floor. It was sitting next to a chair that had fallen over, sitting behind a desk. There were burn marks on the chest. Taylor must have been sitting in the chair when the killer stepped in and shot him. I stepped toward the body and took a close look at the chest wound. It had burned all the way through his body. The hole was about the size of a fist. “A mark like this… Does this look to you what it looks like to me?” I asked Sarah. “Well the burn going all the way through indicates a heat weapon, not a laser weapon to me. I was thinking it’s probably a plasma cutter but-” I cut her off, “A plasma cutter wouldn’t have left that large a hole.” “I know.” She replied. “Honestly, I’ve never seen a wound like that. I’ve heard of them though. It looks like it’s from a heat rifle.”
There are two main kinds of weapons today, laser weapons and heat weapons. Laser weapons, of course, fire lasers, beams of focused light. They’re cheap, and they certainly get the job done, but they leave a very specific kind of mark. You see, they usually tend to cook you through, instead of actually leaving a hole, so while there’s a burn mark, it’s not a hole, just some charred flesh going all the way through. Only military grade laser rifles, or highly modified laser weapons would leave a hole. Military grade weapons are locked down and strictly banned from the whole station. There’s likely only two or so on the whole of Hope. Then there are heat weapons. Heat weapons actually superheat a special substance we call “goo”, although there’s a more technical term for it that I don’t know. Plasma cutters used by the engineers can leave a hole, since they use goo to create a stream that can cut through nearly anything. Those are pretty much the only heat weapon you see on lower decks, since anything bigger than a plasma cutter is expensive. Very expensive. High cost up front, and high upkeep, not to mention that goo itself is fairly expensive. A heat rifle would be impossible for anyone on the lower decks to afford, in fact it’d be nearly impossible for anyone on the mid decks to afford. The only people who would have that kind of firepower would be very, very powerful men.
“Mrs. Taylor, did your husband have any enemies that you know of?” I asked her. “Oh no!” She said, shocked at the very idea, without hesitation. “He was a good man! No one would have any reason to- He was a great man! He gave up everything for this clinic! To help people!” “Gave up everything?” Sarah asked. “What do you mean?” Mrs. Taylor took another deep breath. “He was raised upper deck. He got his medical license up there, could have stayed up there his whole life, but he decided to come down here and open a clinic. His parents disowned him for it, but he knew he could do good here. He knew he could help people. That’s all he wanted, was to save this place and- And now he’s-” Mrs. Taylor melted once more into sobs.
Sarah walked over to the corner with me and spoke softly to me. “Something’s wrong about this. At first I was thinking it was just a junkie. The medicine cabinet is open, but it doesn’t look like any drugs are missing. And that chest wound… How would a junkie get that kind of firepower?” I looked at the body. “I don’t know. I agree. Something is off about all of this. I think someone might have wanted Evan Taylor dead.” “But why?” Sarah asked me. I looked at her, and responded “That’s an excellent question, isn’t it?”