The train jostles the passenger’s book and sends his pen across the page, making his ‘E’ have unnecessary flourish. This is the only part of the true to life train experience that he wished they left out of the ship. Only the most inept would believe that a star-ship, whizzing at fabric-bending speeds across the blackness between galaxies, would bump around.
Placing the small book in his pocket, the passenger pulls out a cigarette and puts it to his lips, at that a small electric brass man walks out from behind a false wall. No more than two foot tall, the brass robot walks stiff-legged to the man, his square body is the perfect size for a bottle of cognac, two glasses, and a few cooling stones. The brass-man tilts his blinking green eyes in the direction of the passenger and lifts his hand in the shape of a pistol, drops his thumb, and sparks a small flame to light the passenger’s cigarette.
“Thank you Robert. Now, if you don’t mind pouring me a drink I would be much appreciative.” The passenger winks, taking a long slow drag from his cigarette. He takes off his tarnished-silver horned spectacles and tosses them into the bowler cap next to him. His compartment, a finely decorated room with velvet curtains, dark wood panels, and imitation gas lanterns, whispers of yesteryear. The clink-clink of stone on glass brings his attention back to the brass-man holding up a delicious amber liquid. The passenger smiles and pats Robert on the head, but before he can thank him the compartment door slides open.
“Detective Papiernik, I didn’t know you were on this train to Telmun-six, how are you?” greets a beautiful red-headed young woman, her brilliant hazel eyes wrinkle as she smiles. Her gray coat and black valise carry the emblem of the Outer Reach Bureau Enforcement Squad. The door closes behind her as she settles down into the seat across from him. Robert, the brass man, hands her a fresh glass of cognac.
“Thank you Robert, and please Anita, call me Leonardo. All this talk about ‘detective’ is going to go to my head.” Leonardo smiles at her. “I took the early ride seeing as Professor Cafferty, as he always does, asked me last minute to speak at the lecture.”
“The psychologist, huh? Well after you get bored to death by him, what are you going to be doing?”
“Well, I was hoping to convince a friend to have lunch with me.” Leonardo takes a sip from his glass.
“Well that friend might be able to after an O.R.B.E.S meeting. This isn’t a pleasure trip for all of us Detective Leo. By the way, the train seems awfully quiet. Is it usually so abandoned?” Anita smiles and sips her drink. Reaching into her valise she pulls out a small rectangular piece of glass and taps it; Robert goes back into his wall. Leonardo can see small icons blossoming on the screen. “I agree,” he replies, “Some passengers seem to have entire cars for themselves. At the next station we should be picking up more travelers, though.”
“Oh well,” Anita says, checking her G.L.A.S.S. “It looks like the meeting is over at three, so if you’re ok with a late lunch … you did mean with me?”
“Yes, I did.” Leonardo chuckles and takes out his small book. “Let me pencil you in too.”
“What in the galaxy is that? Is that supposed to be ‘retro?’” she snorts. “I didn’t even know they still made those.”
“Well I’m a detective. It’s my job to find things others can’t, so be careful around me,” he says indignantly. “Anyway, not all of us like G.L.A.S.S.”
“Oh, be nice. This is the last splurge I’m going to have in a long time. My investments haven’t been doing too well.”
“I heard. Landen Inc. really suffered when—”
The lights go out in the compartment, and they both stand in silence. There are screams from the compartment behind theirs, 6-G, Leonardo remembers, before a loud thud seeps through the wall. In the silence Leonardo can hear Anita trying to open the door but it’s locked. He stares through the darkness at the wall dividing him and the commotion. The wall shutters as someone is thrown into to it repeatedly and then dragged along the bottom. Whoever it is really pissed someone off.
The lights come back on, and Anita tries opening the door but it’s still locked. Then a woman’s voice calls though the train. “This is the conductor. We are sorry for the technical difficulties. We are assessing the situation and need your full cooperation. We are closing off each car for your safety. The Drink-bots will be in to bring you refreshments and food. Thank you.”
The doors reopen, and a loud clunk indicates they won’t be closing anytime soon. Leonardo and Anita pull out their guns, and he pulls on his bowler before stepping out. He aims his gun down a hallway lined with compartments. A vast window spans the opposite side of the hall, and the glare of lights from inside the train blacks out the stars.
Two men walk out of the nearest compartment. One is tall and thick with long blond hair. His clothes are worn and wrinkled. The other is a head shorter and thinner, with short blond hair, and a pair of slacks beneath a button-up shirt. Leonardo hides his gun behind his back and nods at them.
From the compartment between his and theirs walk out two women. The first is wearing a crisp dark suit closely fitted to her body, with spiky salt and pepper hair and black glasses on a stern face. The woman next to her has blue skin which glistens in the light, a long ponytail, dark jeans, a white tank-top, and she’s holding a white cane out in front of herself.
“Someone is unconscious over here,” Anita says. Leonardo turns to see her looking into the last compartment. Both of them holster their weapons, and Leonardo walks over and peers inside to see a very large man lying face down on the floor, with a gash on the back of his head. Anita tries to wake the man as Leonardo faces the others.
“Are we trapped? Dan I can’t do this,” the long haired man says. He begins to hyperventilate and the other man grabs his hand.
“Is he going to be ok?” Leonardo asks the short haired man.
“David ‘s claustrophobic, but he’ll be ok. I’m Daniel Marte, and this is my brother,” he says, now holding up David.
“Detective Papiernik,” he pulls aside his coat and points to the badge strapped to his belt.
“You’re a detective? I wouldn’t have guessed, dressed like that,” the stern faced woman says, walking up and looking into the compartment.
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” he asks, looking at his attire: gray slacks and shirt with a purple velvet coat.
“I am Minka Portov, architect. You may have seen my work on Keda-Minor,” she says proudly, not paying attention to his remark.
“No, I haven’t.” Disregarding her, he turns his attention to her companion. “And you are?”
“My name is Itla. I’m also an architect and the student of Ms. Portov.” She stands behind her teacher like a dutiful student, her eyes unfocused and to the left of him.
“Okay, enough of the niceties,” Anita says, walking out of the large man’s compartment. “We have a wounded man who can only talk about a boy who is apparently missing. This is officially a crime scene. Detective, can I talk to you?” Leonardo moves toward her and she says in a low voice, “He’s From Ora Duos. It wasn’t easy to get anything from him, but he let slip that he was guarding a boy.”
“The kid is Bartholomew Landen.” She looks hard at him.
“Round them up and ask the preliminaries. I need to look in the compartment.”
“Take this Leo,” she says and holds out her G.L.A.S.S.
“No thanks. I have these.” He tips his hat and takes his spectacles out of a hidden compartment. With a pinch of the frames the lenses flash on, and a little square hovers over Anita’s face with bits of text scrolling over it: Anita Alell, thirty-two, O.R.B.E.S. Lieutenant. He pulls off the horns on either side of the lenses and hands one to her. She sticks it in her ear and he does the same. “Do your thing Annie.”
She walks over to the small crowd of people, and Leonardo goes into compartment 6-G. The compartment is much the same as his, except for the seats and a large window looking out into the darkness of space. The large man is sitting in a high back chair, looking dizzy, with an icepack on his head and his face in his hands. Even while sitting he’s still a foot taller than Leonardo. The gash on his head has stopped bleeding, and the lenses measure it: seven inches long, and deep enough to show the black bone underneath. Scanning the rest of the room, the lenses pick up faint scratches on the wall where the boy’s body must have been thrown against. Saturating the wall with different light waves, images of the boy’s back begin to take shape. The most complete impression shows that the highest the boy’s shoulders went is no more than five and a half feet up; making the suspect no taller than five foot or very weak.
“Annie, look for someone about your height,” Leonardo says quietly.
“So Daniel and David Marte, right?” Anita asks, pushing on the earpiece and looking at the short haired brother. “Where are you from?”
“Earth, Brooklyn,” David replies, crossing his arms. “My brother lives with me.”
“And what, brings you to Telmun-Six?”
“Look sweetheart, I think you need to leave the detective work to your oddly dressed friend,” Minka says with a smirk, “O.R.B.E.S. Officers pass out citations.”
“Really? I don’t have any citations, but I have a set of handcuffs if you like.” Anita gives Minka a once over, but she is a little too tall. However, slapping her around doesn’t sound too bad of an idea.
“Everything ok out there? It’s a little too quiet.” Leonardo presses his earpiece in a little deeper and looks over at the open door. Turning back he lets the lenses collect as much information from the room as they can process. There are marks on the floor at the foot of a desk—it wasn’t always right in front of the window. The large man must have moved it for the boy, the lenses pick up different colored specks on the desk surface.
Pulling off his hat, he reaches into the hidden compartment and pulls out a set of tweezers, and pinching a speck he holds it up to his spectacles. As he squints the lenses zoom in slowly and quickly identify the speck to be from a crayon, scarlet. He is about to press his face against the window to see if he can see Baltzum the red giant, but notices the boy’s face smeared on the glass.
“He was curious of that window, too.” The large man’s deep gravel of a voice startles Leonardo.
“Shh! Say nothing. He not friend,” the same gravelly voice scorns. Leonardo walks around the chair to face the large man, and he looks back with all four eyes. His squared jaw holds one of his nervous mouths, and the other sits under his eggplant nose like a toothed mustache.
“What’s your name and more importantly what happened?” Leonardo asks.
“My name is Garrnom Benthoric, but you may call me Garr,” the lower mouth says, and then the upper adds, “Nothing, I didn’t see anything. The boy just not here.”
“The lights went out, and you were attacked.”
“The pain. I can’t stand it,” says the lower mouth, and the upper just frowns.
“What was the boy’s name?” The spectacles analyze every movement from his face. If he did something, they will know.
“I miss Bartie. I sad for him,” the upper mouth whimpers.
“Why are you two going to Telmun-six?” Anita asks Minka and Itla outside the compartment.
“Well for work of course. That planet needs the miracle of a building or two,” Minka says, pulling out a cigarette. “May I ask you the same question?”
“No, you may not,” Anita says as professionally as she can. She can hear Leonardo talking to Garr. “It would be in your best interest if you cooperate and answer only the questions I ask. There is a boy missing, and as of now all of you are suspects.”
“Hey isn’t the guy from Ora Duos a suspect too?” David asks and looks at his brother.
“Dude, the chicks from there are insane,” Daniel replies. “I was talking to the guy like two hours ago and he was giving me all these sites to look up on the nebula, man!”
“I guess I know who I’m questioning first. Out here, gentlemen,” Leonardo says, and he walks out of the compartment and motions them towards 9-G, their compartment.
“You’re an idiot Dave,” Daniel sighs, and they walk, followed by Anita and Leonardo.
“You two stay out here,” Leonardo says to the women. Minka had shot a nasty look at the compartment.
David walks to the other end of their room with his arms crossed and lips pursed. Daniel drops himself in the nearest chair and throws his long hair back. Anita walks towards a desk and Leonardo stays by the door.
“I see you two are form the historic district on Earth, folks must be rich,” Leonardo says, looking over Anita’s G.L.A.S.S.
“No. The folks are dead,” David says through gritted teeth. “I’m rich.”
“You look irritated. Why’s that?”
“Because we are being accused of kidnapping a boy,” David says. He sees Anita picking up one of his journals, and he walks over and snatches it out of her hand. “Don’t touch these, they are private, I have lawyers.”
“Look Mr. Marte, I may be an officer of the law, but if you snatch things from me again I will shoot you,” Anita says, casually adjusting her coat and giving him a peek at her gun.
Leonardo can see fear flash across his face, and the lenses flash a suggested response: Intimidation. “Davy, if I were you, I’d tell us what it is you do and what’s in those journals.”
“I’m a technical engineer for Talisman Co. I’ve been working in their Security Prototype Department for ten years, and all of this is sensitive.” He points at the rest of the paperwork on the desk.
“And the trip to Telmun-Six? You said it was business. Who are you meeting?” Anita asks, walking to a large bag where David stood before.
“Well I’m a detective, and I’m going to speak at a lecture, but I’m meeting with Professor Cafferty beforehand. Now it’s your turn to give me a name.” Leonardo smiles at David.
“I’m meeting with Albert Landen.”
“See how cooperation makes you look less suspicious.” Anita reaches deep into the bag and pulls out a baggie of Leaves.
“That’s not mine!” Daniel blurts out. Anita shakes her head and tosses it back in the bag.
“We are looking for a missing kid, not drugs.” Leonardo looks directly at David. “I know that Talisman Co. is partnered with Landen, and I also know that you lost a lot of money when Landen Inc. went under. You said you worked for Talisman, past tense. I’m going to ask only once: What were you doing when the lights went out?”
“I was sitting here waiting for them to come back on. Anyway, the doors seal off in the event of a power failure.”
“The way I see it, you’re pissed at Landen, and being a Tech you could easily disable the lock.”
“If he did, the locks in all of the compartment doors would stop working. They are all connected on the same circuit.” The other three are taken aback by Daniel’s sudden lucidity. “What? I don’t just look at porn on the nebula, you know.”
“Dan, out of curiosity, what do you do?” Anita asks.
“Oh, I’m an artist, a writer, a sculptor….” He spaces a bit and just smiles at her before snapping out of it. “What was the question again?”
“Never mind, you two can go.”
All four of them walk out, and the brothers head to Minka and Itla to talk about the interrogation as Leonardo and Anita hang back. “The ear piece cut out a bit. What were you and Garr talking about before you came back out?”
“He was telling me that before the lights went he was nodding off and the boy was coloring. When they did go, all he heard were footsteps then got waked over the head. I was looking over the wound and it looks like he was hit with something that had a corner. Apart from the boy nothing else was missing, so the kidnapper brought their own weapon.”
“That’s something. You should know when I walked up to those two,” Anita says, pointing at the women. “were arguing in Jaranian. Now I’m not an expert at the language but it sounded like Minka was telling the other to keep her mouth shut.”
“Let’s take them both in too then. They might slip up.” Leonardo motions to the women to follow him into their compartment. Minka walks with her head held up, and Itla holds her cane out a few inches off the ground. When they enter he has them sit. Looking around he can see that this compartment is bigger than his, and is decorated with photos of different buildings, groups of people, and in a few Itla stands behind Minka, like a dutiful student. He walks to a small bookcase where there are volumes of books on design, color, and an encyclopedia of codes and bylaws.
“Tell me Itla, how does a blind girl from Jara become an Architect?” Leonardo walks behind her chair and places a hand on her shoulder, making her jump a little.
“Well detective, by not becoming blind until my final year of school,” she responds, tilting her head towards him.
“And how does one become the protégé of a universally famous architect?” he asks her again.
“By being at the top of her class while battling a crippling disability,” Minka chimes in, making Itla smile.
“I would think someone of your caliber would have already had a protégé,” Anita asks Minka, taking a seat in front of her.
“She did have one, but the same accident that took my sight took her first protégé’s life. Heath Blackley, I think his name was.”
“So her number one died and she just so happened to know you were available?” Leonardo asks her.
“Like Ms. Portov said, I was the best in my class, and from what I was told the best since she herself went to the Demeter Towers.” She pushes a strand of hair out of her face. “I don’t mean I’m anywhere near what Ms. Portov is. She is Safkhet in the flesh.” She stops herself from getting overly excited and breaths deeply.
Leonardo walks back around to sit, but as he does Anita spots something. Itla stiffens and hazily stares at the coffee table in front of them. Anita motions to a bag next to Leonardo’s chair. Grabbing the handle, he sees both Itla’s and Minka’s faces harden. He lifts it to find a date-book underneath, and he picks it up and opens it. “You’re her slave. What kind of architectural training is a six in the morning breakfast, cleaning after her, pressing her clothes? Have you even done anything remotely close to what you spent years in school for?”
“Sh-she told me I was meant for something. I just had to work hard. Creation is toil.”
“What were you too arguing about before I came to get you?” Anita asks. The distraught face Itla wears is replaced by one of utter surprise.
“Lenn apone Itla, apone yt babana,” Leonardo says.
“Epp-eppino,” she stutters.
“Oh just tell them Itla,” Minka says exasperatedly.
“She was on a video conference with her lawyers about the lawsuit with Landen,” Itla says. “After he lost all his money he couldn’t pay for the house Ms. Portov had built for him, so obviously she was supposed to take it as an asset, but there was this law that stopped her. Landen gets to live in the house without having to pay for it.”
“So she wasn’t going to make a new business deal but salvage an old one?” Anita asks.
“She lost more than money—”
“That’s enough Itla. I can answer anything else the Detective needs,” Minka says sternly. “You may have already guessed that in exchange for the house, Landen was going to give me insider information on the company market. Then it turns out the bastard gave me lemons. I put in five times the cost of that house into his company, and no more than a month later it all crumbles like the Alters of Galh.”
She reaches into her coat, and pulls out a tin box, opens it, and offers Leonardo a cigarette. He nods and takes one, and she pulls one out for herself and says, “But remember, I want my money back, and going to prison for kidnapping the Landen boy would keep me from that goal.”
She smiles at his surprise, pushes her lenses up the bridge of her nose and turns her head slightly, revealing an ear piece. He pulls out his ear piece and pops it in his pocket, and Anita does the same. Sitting straighter, Minka adds, “A gift from an ex-husband. They come in handy when one needs to measure large spaces.”
He puts the cigarette to his lips and lights it, and he watches as Itla places her hands on the table and searches around till she finds a cup and a water jug. She wraps her fingers around the cup and pours herself a drink. Leonardo squints at her as she drinks. He blinks and the lenses take a photo of her.
“Minka, you know spying on agents is a punishable offense,” Anita says, watching Leonardo.
In response, Minka laughs and puts her cigarette to her lips. From behind her a hidden door opens with a swish, and a silver version of Robert walks stiff-legged toward her, with its flaming finger ready. It opens up its chest and offers Minka a drink, which she gladly takes. Leonardo turns his attention on the robot then to the closed hidden door.
“I know where he is!” He jumps out of his seat, runs over the coffee table and into the hallway.
Anita looks at the women. “Outside.”
Leonardo crashes into 6-G. “I know where he is. Will you help me?”
Garr stands up and tosses the icepack onto the seat. Leonardo walks to the part of the wall where the false wall should be and tries to pry it open. After struggling, the large man pushes him aside and punches a hole in the wall and pulls it out, along with the copper colored drink-bot behind it.
“What the hell, Leo?” Anita calls from out in the hall.
“Keep your gun on all of them!” Leonardo calls to her, and he crawls into the wall and disappears. The large man waits for what he thinks is hours for the detective to return. Grunting can be heard escaping the hole in the wall until Leonardo’s face reappears. The large man drops the bot and the wall, and he runs over to the hole and helps him drag the lifeless body of the boy.
Immediately the cause of death can be seen: bloodshot eyes, blue lips, and a crushed larynx. The huge man grabs the boy and weeps into his hair.
“He was my responsibility,” he speaks through both mouths in tandem. “While his father was away I raised him into the young man. He was like a son to me.”
“I need you to do something, for the boy,” Leonardo says. The large man looks at him and nods.
“How long do we have to stand here?” Daniel asks angrily.
“Not long,” Anita replies. Leonardo comes flying out of the compartment and bounces of the window. He falls to a heap on the floor, and the large man walks into the hall, head nearly touching the ceiling. His chest is heaving in and out, both sets of teeth bare. Anita points her gun at him but doesn’t shoot because Leonardo jumps up, and he throws a punch that lands square on Garr’s lower mouth.
“How dare you accuse me of killing the master!” the large man cries. Leonardo looks over at the crowed and blinks a photo. The large man throws a punch that misses and dents the door leading into the car behind theirs. Leonardo looks over and takes another photo.
“It was one of them!” the large man roars at the group of people. The lenses snap one more photo.
“That’s enough Garr. I got what I needed,” Leonardo says to the large man, who instantly becomes meek and sad, his eyes full with tears again. “I know which one of you killed him. The only one who wasn’t looking at the giant thrashing me about and threatening them, the only one preoccupied with what was in their compartment, right Itla?”
“You are mad!” Minka yells. “How in the galaxies could a blind girl do that?”
“Easy, she isn’t blind,” Leonardo looks over the first picture he took: Itla’s fingers wrapped around the cup. “You made the mistake of getting thirsty. If you were really blind you would have stuck your index finger into to the cup to know when it was full. You also did a very good job of ‘looking’ blind, but with this little show you faltered.” The next two photos flashing in his lenses show her dead focused on the fight. The last photo pops up, Itla’s had is turned away from the fight focused on something else “Now all I need to know is what you were looking at in your compartment.”
Leonardo reaches up and touches his frames. Through his lenses he can see a large white grid on the floor. The last three photos he took align themselves to where Itla stood, mapping out her position, measuring her height and face; they make a three dimensional model of her and then map her eye’s position in the last photos. All Leonardo has to do is walk over to where she stood and they would mark what she was most probably looking at. There is only one marker on the lenses when he takes his position, her bag.
Walking back into her compartment, he takes the bag and empties it on a chair. Out falls a dusty coat, the same type of dust on him from the drink-bot shaft. Wrapped inside it is a square ruler with Garr’s blood still on the angle. He walks back out with the two items, and the moment Itla sees them she falls down in a heap of tears.
“Why Itla?” Anita asks her.
“He told me I wouldn’t get caught, that I would be doing good by Ms. Portov.”
“Who told you?” both Leonardo and Anita ask.
“Not another word Itla. Not till I get my lawyers on this,” Minka instructs, and the girl shuts her mouth and whimpers like the large man.
Outside on the train platform, Leonardo can see the O.R.B.E.S. Chief talking to Anita, and a team removing the boy’s body. A small transparent folder sits on the left side of his vision reading, “Case: unsolved,” and through it he sees two officers escorting Itla to a squad car. He blinks a photo and it reads, “Itla, Jara,” as she is placed in the car. He blinks again and it reads, “Itla, Inmate.” The folder flashes, “Case: Solved.”