Archive for the ‘Steve’s Shorts’ Category

Steve’s shorts: Intern…

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Intern

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

[Some readers of this blog are probably familiar with my Dr. Carlos stories. Carlos Obregon is chief medical officer aboard the starship Brendan, part of the Interstellar Trade Union of Independent Planets’ (ITUIP’s) Space Exploration Bureau’s (SEB’s) fleet. His intern Dr. Julie Chen (not a future relation to my detective Dao-Ming Chen, as far as I know) plays an important role in some stories. The following story is about their first meeting.]

“Lester, I don’t need an intern.” Carlos Obregon crossed his arms and tried to look stubborn.

The captain of the starship Brendan knew that his First Medical Officer had a point. He waved off his objection, though.

“SEB says you do, and I agree with them that we need to train new medical officers all the time. They pair interns with experienced officers all the time. Weren’t you an intern once?”

“I did my internship in a New Haven hospital. I once made the mistake of diagnosing an SEB VIP’s ailment who then showed his gratitude by convincing me to sign on. In those days, fleet medical officers were stolen from the civilian population.”

“OK, let me put it another way: Don’t you think you have some obligation to train young people?”

Obregon indicated the young woman’s hologram appearing between them. “This intern already has experience. She could be a medical officer on a smaller ship right now and probably do a good job.”

The captain nodded. “I agree. She seems a bit over-qualified. It’s out of my hands, though. I can do nothing about it. Neither can you.”

Obregon thought a moment. “There are times when I could use some help, but those are probably times when an intern would just get in my way.”

The captain shrugged. “She’ll be boarding sometime this afternoon. You’ll have to talk to her. The faster you get her up to speed, the faster you’ll be rid of her.”

“Not until we have planetary leave again. That could take forever.”

“Or it could be in three standard months if we have a particularly stressing mission. And remember, you’ll be signing off on her being qualified for a regular post. That’s a major responsibility.”

“Can I wash her out if she’s not qualified?”

The captain frowned. “Don’t look for trouble, Carlos. Not being able to train a qualified intern won’t look good on your own record.”

“And here I mistakenly thought that the candidate’s performance would determine their future postings.”

***

“I’ve chosen a few classic texts for you to peruse,” said Obregon.

Julie Chen floated in a lotus position before his desk. Showoff, he thought. I could do that too, but I have a bit more decorum in zero-g. Brendan wouldn’t spin up the artificial gravity until just before going FTL.

They were already in the far reaches of the solar system where crewmembers had enjoyed a short leave on the fifth planet. The captain had ordered an FTL drive inspection that required the zero-g environment.

“I’m starting you with Wave Searcher’s Physiology of Known ET Genotypes and Blamak’s Sentient Lifeforms and their Circulatory Systems.

“I’ve already studied those texts. I remember you wrote a chapter in Wave Searcher’s book.”

“Fine. Look at the other texts then. Things are pretty quiet on the way out. The going gets rough when we have to explore an unknown planet and decide if it’s OK for colonization.”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Lifeboat…

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Lifeboat

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Can we keep it?”

Jerry looked at the creature in his daughter’s hand. He had stopped sprinkling the new grass seed and considered her question. He held out his free hand, still gloved from raking the soil.

“Give it to me and let me rinse your hand off!” The creature looked like fancy lime Jello from a mold, except it wasn’t completely transparent. “Where did you get this?”

Susie pointed under the hedge. He saw something the size of a small, shiny, stainless steel garbage can. The rounded end was blackened as if it had gone through a fire. The flat end was emitting white smoke. There were strange characters on the side that looked a bit like Chinese writing. A bio attack launched from China?

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Marci…

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Marci

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Anjum opened the invitation, read it, and then tore it up. No way am I going to send my daughter to a party to be bullied by those brats!

She smiled as her daughter started to play another piece. Her birth-mother had rejected her; Anjum and her husband had adopted her. I think that’s a Debussy étude.

She’d always wanted to give Hakeem a son or daughter, but she couldn’t. Now all their parental love was for their adopted daughter, who came with the name Marcia, but they called her Marci. It was the only name the child recognized.

Perhaps the parents inviting her child meant well. Perhaps they didn’t understand that Marci’s differences with other children were a blessing. Perhaps they didn’t know that so-called “normal children” picked on her.

Anjum and Hakeem knew their child had special talents. She had started to play the piano at three and they found her drawing complicated geometrical shapes and constructing elaborate sequences of numbers when she was four. Hakeem showed some of the latter to a mathematician where they both worked. The mathematician told Hakeem that one sequence was a list containing natural numbers with more and more crossed out revealing the prime numbers. “She’s mentally applying Eratosthenes’s sieve,” the mathematician had said.

What will my daughter’s future be like?

***

Marci took out her tablet and typed, “Are you nervous?”

Her husband looked at his iPhone and shook his head. “I’m just reading your speech, hon,” he texted back to her.

When the time came, they went on stage together. He gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek and began reading her speech to the audience.

“Mathematics and music were my faithful friends. I love them almost as much as I love my husband.” He paused and winked at her. “I am humbled that you have decided to award me the Fields Medal, often considered to be the Nobel Prize of mathematics. As Newton said, though, I was fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants, in particular Ramanujan. My work only continued the work of many mathematicians, so this award is also their award. Thank you.”

The applause was so deafening that she wanted to cover her ears. But she only smiled at Anjum and Hakeem in the front row. The “thank you” was mostly for them. Her old mother and father smiled back.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in the Second World War. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s also available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). See the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas…

 

Steve’s shorts: Siege…

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Siege

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Have you heard, Josefina?”

The woman put the paper plates in front of her small children. She watched them begin to devour the PB&J sandwiches.

“Heard what, Father Sullivan?”

“The police have said they’re outnumbered. They’re letting the mad dogs take over the city.”

Josefina paled, caught her breath, and sat down on the fourth chair at the little table.

“Will we still be safe here?”

The young priest shook his head. “Your case has been in the local news. They know you’re here. I don’t know if any of us are safe. Mob rule isn’t pretty. They are thugs and killers.”

“Where else could we go?”

“Everywhere will be dangerous. Our only hope is that they respect the church as sanctuary. I suspect we might have other guests, refugees from the terror.”

Josefina wrung her hands, looking from angelic face to angelic face. The violence in her home country had been followed by years of peace in her new one. All her children were born in the U.S., but she was still an illegal. If they had just offered her some route to a green card and then citizenship.

When ICE started tearing apart the immigrant families, she had to leave her good-paying job and seek refuge in her church. Her children, ages three, five, and eight, were too young to leave on the outside even though they weren’t in danger.

Now they were all in danger, including the priests, nuns, and deacons who had given them shelter. The neo-Nazis now in control of the city would run amok.

“You should all join us here in the basement,” she said. “We’ll barricade the doors.”

Father Sullivan nodded. “That’s a good idea if it works. I’ll tell the others. We need to bring all our food supplies down here.”

She glanced around the huge basement used in better times for church social functions and overflow from the holiday masses. The large TV was connected to cable as well as a feed from the old cathedral above them.

“They might burn it all down,” she said. “We’d all be trapped.”

“Not if our barricade is strong enough and the ceiling holds.” He paused at the stairs. “It’s possible that the police will come to their senses and hold them off until the National Guard can be deployed to stop them, but we need to be prepared. Can Antonio take care of the other two if you help us?”

Josefina looked at her oldest child. With wide eyes, he nodded.

“Tranquilla, mamacita, los cuideré.”

It took them half a day to prepare. When the barricades went up blocking the entrances into the basement, Juanita’s family had been joined by the four priests, nearly a dozen nuns, and more than the Hispanic families, all citizens or green-card holders. They had come to seek refuge because no one needed to tell them what the skinheads would do to them if they were caught.

“The governor is calling in the National Guard,” said Father Sullivan.

“Too little, too late,” said a nun. “This is our Kristallnacht.”

They sat around holding hands and awaiting their fate.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. See the review and interview at Feathered Quill. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it).

In libris libertas….

Steve’s shorts: Chiba…

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

[Note from Steve: Let’s have some fun with space opera….]

Chiba

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Erid Ariklai lost patience with the robocab’s obsession with safety. He took control by leaving the unit’s AI smoldering behind the front dash.

Your heavy boot can do a lot of damage!

He was focused on controlling the cab now, but he took time to smile at Mira’s thought. She often thought he was too impulsive.

He had three patrol cars in pursuit by the time he crashed through the guard barrier and landed in its canal’s dry bed. He managed to maintain speed and control while dodging the garbage citizens from the Iskandian capital had thrown into it.

He would never have thought of the canal as a super-highway for his escape. Mira had suggested it before he committed robocide, her voice a soft purr in his mind. You’re the best, baby!

It occurred to him that Iskandian cops were going to a lot of trouble when all he’d done was steal a painting from a local gallery, thinking it would be a nice gift for Mira. He’d kept that thought from her, of course, to make it a surprise. His real reason for his downtown visit was to break into the Hephreid Empire’s embassy and steal some computer files. Because Iskandia wasn’t part of the Empire, the cops’ pursuit didn’t even make sense for that.

Rotary for the spaceport turnoff coming up. You’ll need to leave the canal.

He wondered if the robocab’s electric motor had the necessary power. Time to find out! He spun the wheel—the cab allowed Human control in case the AI died, which it had—so he was able to steer toward the canal’s and climb the slope. He soon entered the rotary and took the branch off it leading to the spaceport.

Local laws required drivers to stop and ID themselves. He crashed through the security checkpoint instead and headed directly for their ship.

We’re lifting in thirty ticks.

Erid slammed on the brakes and bolted from the car with the painting. He ran up the gangway and dove inside the main airlock. A few ticks later he was inside the hold and both outside and inside doors were closing. The ladder to the command-and-control center was at the far end of the hold. He headed for it. “Daddy’s home, Mama G and Mira,” he said as he began his climb.

“We’re already in space.” That was Mama G’s voice from C&C. “Get your ass up here. We’re going to need some fancy flying. Three police cruisers are chasing us.”

He came to the ladder’s end and entered C&C, leaving the package containing the painting on the table that was projecting a holographic model of the Iskandian solar system.

“Thanks for bringing me in,” Erid said to Mira. “Babbage, give me a visual of our pursuers.” The AI transferred the video image from Mama G’s display to his as he took the pilot’s seat. “Those are too big for police cruisers. They’re Imperial warships. They must have been in orbit around the planet.”

“Looked like police cruisers to me,” said Mama G. “Can you outrun them?”

“Babbage, what do you think?” said Erid.

“I’m always doing a lot of thinking, too much to enumerate,” said the AI. “If I’ve correctly distilled your query, though, I concur with Mama G’s original comment. You’re going to need to do some fancy flying. If I could disable my safety coding, I could help, but I have to leave the reckless piloting to you, I’m afraid. Prepare to die, Mama G and Mira.”

“Just keep feeding me data. I’ve had more challenging situations. No one’s going to die.” Erid knew their ship. He also knew Imperial warships—he had served on one once. They were clumsy and slow. “Babbage, I need you to man the guns.”

“They won’t do any good against a warship.”

“I know that! But we’re going through this system’s asteroid belt. Blast any small crap that gets in our way. I’ll dodge around the big stuff but close enough that the warships won’t dare to follow.”

After about a quarter standard, Erid was able to lose their pursuers.

***

Erid accepted the drink Mira was offering and smiled at her. “You never had any doubts, did you?”

I knew you’d done it before. That—she jerked a thumb toward the painting now on the galley’s wall—is a nice gift but hardly worth putting us in danger.

“Don’t think it was that. They must have discovered my code download somehow. Any thoughts, Mama G?”

Erid’s mother-in-law shrugged. “I made a secure link to your transmitter. Babbage confirmed. No one should have been the wiser.”

“I’ll confirm that again,” said the AI.

“Maybe they’re cleverer than we think they are,” said Erid.

“Or they just wanted to fry your butt for breaking into the embassy,” said Mama G. “You know, just on general principles. I feel like doing it myself sometimes.”

“Maybe.” He raised his glass. “To riches. We’ll sell that stolen code to the rebels for a good price and rest on our laurels afterward.” A crash was heard in the ship’s hold beneath them. “Babbage, scan below.”

“I detect nothing that could produce that sound,” said the AI.

“I’ll go check,” said Mama G.

Erid watched her leave the galley. “Your mother’s a great crewmember,” he said aloud to Mira.

My mother was born on a rebel base and was in space before she was ten. She has more experience than we do.

“Agreed. Maybe that’s why she had problems accepting me.”

You’re an AWOL from an Imperial crew. That’s a negative in her opinion. Always will be.

“She sympathizes with rebels. It should be a positive.”

You never will understand. She believes in loyalty and the chain of command.

“She didn’t have to serve on an Imperial warship. I did. That’s more than a chain of command.”

I understand that. She doesn’t. Mother?

Mama G stuck her head in the door. “I hate to break up your discussion about me, but I found our noisemaker.” She shoved a small girl into the galley. “Meet Chiba, our first stowaway.”

Erid stood and caught the kid who didn’t seem used to low g-force. “How’d you get in here?”

Chiba looked around. “I’m hungry. Feed me something and I’ll answer your question.”

Mira popped a tray into the microwave and set it for two minutes. Soon Chiba was devouring what played the role of roast, potatoes, and vegetables. Kid’s famished.

Chiba looked at Mira and smiled. You’re a telepath?

Among other things. Finish your food.

Chiba did just that. She soon pushed back her stool and sighed. “I can answer your question. I followed you in. I move fast. I had to get-away. Your ship was getting away. Said and done.”

“Why? Why did you need to get away? Is there some pervert chasing you?” Mama G looked concerned.

“Too many questions. Let me ask one. Where are we going?”

“I can’t answer that,” said Erid.

“Then I can’t answer any more of your questions. We’re at an impasse.”

Mira smiled at Erid. She’s got you there.

***

They let Chiba have the run of the ship, figuring she was neither an Imperial nor rebel spy. Babbage always had sensors on her, of course, but where was she going to go? Erid got used to having her around.

The trek to the nearest rebel planet took many jumps. At the end of the last one, Chiba was sitting on Erid’s lap as he guided their ship into the solar system.

“Can’t the Empire find this planet?” she said.

“There are spies everywhere, child,” said Mama G, “even on Freedom-4, but you’ll soon see why we’ll be safe on this rebel world.”

“Beginning Kuiper belt transition,” said Babbage.

“That marks the outer boundaries of most star systems,” said Erid.

“I know that.” He thinks I’m stupid.

No, he’s only explaining what Babbage said. The AI can be a bit terse sometimes.

“You two should shield me from your thoughts when they’re private,” Erid told Chiba and Mira. “And Chiba, I don’t think you’re stupid. In fact, I think you know more than you’re telling us. Before we arrive, I’d like to try a theory out on you.”

Chiba fidgeted a little. “Might as well go for it now. I’m listening.”

“It’s easy to express. I think the Imperial warships were coming after you. They had no idea that I downloaded code or stole a painting.”

She jumped to the floor and faced him, hands on hips.

“What makes you think that?”

“Simple deduction. Our code transmission was secure. And Imperial ships wouldn’t give a damn about a stolen painting. I’m guessing they even put the local cops up to pursuing me. Were you in the robocab?”

She smiled. “Not in. On. Standing on the back bumper, in fact. I almost flew off when you went into the canal.”

Erid nodded. “OK. Thank you for being honest and confirming my theory. Now, why are you running away from the Empire? What do they want you for?”

She shrugged. “I was bored. At the embassy all I heard was talk about rebels. I wanted to meet some. If my uncle doesn’t like them, I might. That’s all.”

“Your uncle?” said Mama G.

“The ambassador. My parents died in an accident. He’s my guardian now.”

“Oh, crap!” said Erid. “Just what we need. A run-away with noble blood.”

“Noble blood isn’t good for anything,” said Chiba. “I’ve been a prisoner all my life. My parents were higher ranking than my uncle because my mother is second cousin to the Emperor. She didn’t have much use for the pomp and circumstance, though. And my father was a scientist.  I used to collect plants with him on some new colony planets.”

Was your uncle abusing you?

No. He’s only interested in using me to improve his stature in the Imperial court. And he’s only my mother’s half-brother.

“We should return her,” said Erid. “Freedom-4 is no place for her. She might be persecuted.”

“Can’t I get asylum there? I want to be a scientist like my father. And I don’t want to be with my uncle!”

“Maybe we should let the rebel leader decide what to do with her,” said Mama G.

“They might use her too,” said Erid. He smiled at Chiba. “Maybe you’d just like to become a member of our crew.”

Chiba smiled. “That’s OK for a while. But I do want to become a scientist.”

There are many ways to achieve that, Chiba. Welcome to the crew.

***

“Who’s the girl?” said Colonel Whelon. “Isn’t she a little too young to be a mercenary?”

“We’re opportunists, not mercenaries,” said Erid. “If you must know, she was a stowaway. But she’s smart and a valuable crewmember now.”

The colonel shrugged. “My people have evaluated your summary of the intel you obtained. I’m ready to negotiate for all of it.”

“It’s valuable intel,” said Erid. “What are you offering?”

“Very little. You realize that you have no other customers, right? It’s a buyer’s market.”

“There’s nothing that says we have to sell.”

Whelon snapped his fingers. An entire squad of rebels entered the colonel’s suite. He smiled.

“And there’s nothing that says we can’t take what we want. Put him in the brig. Then get some others and capture that little imp. We can hold her for ransom. The Empire should pay us well for her.”

You’re a terrible negotiator, thought Mari.

You have to hide me, thought Chiba.

One rebel pushed Erid into the cell and slammed the door. “Tell Mama G to take command. Lift off now!”

And what about you? thought Mari and Chiba.

“They won’t get any ransom for me.”

But they could kill you, thought Mari.

I can’t let that happen, thought Chiba.

Mari’s thoughts then echoed Mama G’s words: “We’re already in space. We’ll have to hide and then come back.”

“Who the hell are you talking to?” said a rebel through the small meshed window in the cell door.

“I’m calling for our mercenary fleet,” said Erid. “They’ll turn Freedom-4 into nuclear slag. Tell that to your Colonel Whelon.”

The rebel looked worried and left.

***

“We see no sign of a mercenary fleet,” said Whelon.

Erid was back in the colonel’s little office. “We actually don’t have one. My crew is taking the stowaway back to the Imperial court. There they’ll divulge all they know about this rebel planet and others. The fleet will be an Imperial one. You’ve forfeited any right to survive, and I’ve lost any sympathies I had for your cause.” He smiled at the colonel’s frown. “How did you find out who Chiba really is?”

“We have spies in the Imperial court. They’re good at weeding through gossip and gleaning valuable intel.”

“The Empire will be happy to know about that too.”

“You just heard it. How will you tell your people?”

“The same way I talked to my colleagues. I refer you to the studies of the great Dr. Halas. In particular, the definitive paper in the Imperial Journal of Psychology seventeen years ago.  I forget the volume and number, but you can do a search and find it.  Assuming rebels try to keep up on the latest scientific developments, that is.”

Whelon nodded to an aide who dashed out of the room. “We’ll check that. But I think you’re just wasting my time. Perhaps I should hear a convincing argument from you why you shouldn’t be executed with a lethal injection. That’s what we do with traitors.”

“Treason is in the eyes of the beholder.” Erid took a chair. “And why should I waste my time with such an argument when I can waste yours instead. That will give the Imperial fleet even more time to plan and execute the complete destruction of Freedom-4.” Erid saw the crimson begin in the black hair at Whelon’s throat and rise. Maybe I’ve gone too far?

Maybe, thought Mira, but keep him stewing. He’s so angry he’s not thinking straight right now.

***

Erid and Whelon sat and stared at each other for a bit until the aide returned and handed the colonel a note. He read it and scowled.

(more…)

Endangered species: short fiction…

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

When I start a story, it can become a novel, novella, or short story. I don’t force it. O’Henry was a master of the short story and said a lot in a few words. Nothing wrong with that!

Unfortunately short stories and novellas don’t sell well. Magazines and literary journals were the chief publishers of short fiction. They’re languishing if not disappearing. Short story collections have a hard time acquiring readers and reviewers too. Agents and publishers shun short fiction.

With all this going on, many authors try to force a short story into a novel. It’s not uncommon that a short story or novella becomes a full novel, of course. The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, one of my thrillers, started life as a short story and grew into a novel, and I’m trying to finish a YA sci-fi novel The Secret Urns that expands on a short story.

When I started in this business 10+ years ago, I began submitting short stories along with my novels. The one that’s the basis for that future YA novel even won a contest. And many of the Chen and Castilblanco cases never became novels! But editors of magazines rejected my short stories. Agents and editors were rejecting my novels too. Both of these groups are prejudiced against “new authors,” i.e. writers they’ve never heard about. But the first group seemed cliquish and followers of fads too.

I love short fiction, though. I love to read it, and, by a perusal of the “Steve’s Shorts” category of my blog and short story collections (some of them are PDFs free for the asking), readers know that I love to write it too. There’s something about writing entertaining and pithy short fiction. Plot, characterization, settings, dialogue, and themes still play an important role, but short fiction is often like a rogue wave or tsunami in a vast ocean of extended novels.

Short fiction is lot like poetry. The latter often says a lot in a few words; so does short fiction. I’m not much good at writing poetry as readers of The Collector know—it contains an early poem of mine, but I passed the blame onto Detective Castilblanco.

There’s little to motivate authors to write short fiction these days—not from readers who determine the market, nor from editors and publishers who avoid it because of that market pressure. However, writers should still write short fiction. Doing so teaches the art of minimal verbosity. I’ve seen too many novels that are bloated and fat because of their verbosity—J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are prime examples, but there are many others. Authors should lean to be minimalist writers. Verbosity is NOT a virtue; it’s a negative. An economy of expression is a positive. A few bon mots that express a world of meaning in a few short paragraphs can produce a wonder to behold. Coming directly to the point without fat verbiage should be the requisite for every fiction story, but writing short fiction gives authors that skill. If a reader loves lots of excessive and erudite words, s/he should read a dictionary; otherwise, short fiction can provide hours of pleasure as well as any novel.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon, B&N, or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

In libris libertas…

Steve’s shorts: The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

The Crossword-Puzzle Murderer

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

“Hiya Rollie.” I had to step aside as the ME, Big Tiny, stepped out of the small apartment into the corridor. “Prelim findings should be on your smartphone.”

“You can’t just tell me?”

Big Tiny carried a large super-mocha-double-double something-or-other in his large rubber-gloved paw. Whereas a defensive nose tackle is more muscle than fat, he was the reverse. A happy man, though, in spite of his profession.

“I’m off to another crime scene.”

“So this is a crime scene? It wasn’t clear before, but I preferred coming over to reviewing pending cases where Chen and I aren’t doing too well.”

“I expected to declare it a suicide, but I’m leaning to murder. The bottle of sleeping pills is almost full and there are signs of antifreeze. The tox workup will decide for certain.”

“CSU is still here, I presume?” He nodded. “They might come up with some more evidence.” Bid the big guy farewell, put on my Tyvek booties and rubber gloves, and went inside the apartment. “Anything?” I said to the first CSI I encountered.

He handed me a sealed plastic bag. A regular sheet of paper folded in half showed a crossword partially filled out.

“Right up your alley, o puzzle-meister,” he said.

Didn’t know the guy, but he knew something about me. “I don’t do crosswords. I’m more a math puzzle fellow. What’s special about this?”

“First, it’s homemade. Second, there’s a message. Take a look.”

He went about his business. I stared at the crossword.

Someone—the vic?—had started filling it in. None of the words were erudite—NY Times Monday level—but there was a message. “Death is a release. Relish it.” Huh? The crossword wasn’t large. How did it arrive at the apartment? If the vic had begun to solve it, where did she get it? Better yet, what amateur word smith had made the puzzle? Or, had the vic just taken the message as a sign to do herself in? That tox report would be important.

Hung around a bit more and then returned to the precinct. Chen had gone to chat with one of her snitches about another case, but she was back.

“Just received a message from Big Tiny,” she said. “He’s declaring your case a homicide.” I’d heard the ping but had ignored it. Guessed he didn’t take long on his other case. The big black bear had crawled back into his lair to drink his coffee thing in peace.

I’d snapped a photo of the crossword with my smartphone. Handed the phone to Chen. “This might be the murderer’s threat then.”

She studied the phone’s screen, nodded, and handed it back. “Just what we needed: a weird case. How do you want to handle it?”

***

Two days later, we had another murder with the same MO. This time the vic’s throat was slit. He was an old man. There didn’t seem to be any connection to the first vic. Random? Serial killers often act randomly. But old man v. young woman was interesting. Just a killing lust? I’m not an FBI profiler, so I was at a loss.

You want to make sense of killings like that. I knew that the psychotic mind was often not logical, but sane people want to look for the logic—something that makes sense of it all. The first often means the case isn’t solved. The second, if you can find it, often leads to solving the case.

“Undeserved death. Grim Reaper laughs.” That’s what the message said in this crossword. Still Monday level. The creator wasn’t the brightest serial killer we’d seen. But he had a way with words.

He? That was an assumption. I knew for a fact that women read a lot more than men. Did that extrapolate to women doing more crosswords than men? Didn’t know, but our killer could be a she. Had to keep an unbiased mind.

The throat-slitting had looked professional. Maybe ex-military? That still didn’t exclude a woman these days. Asked Chen’s opinion.

“Overpowering an old man is easier than a young woman,” said Chen, flashing her Asian Mona Lisa smile, “but you’re right. The perp could be a woman. I’m not seeing a pattern, though, besides the crosswords. Time to bring in the FBI?”

“Not on your life. We’ve barely started.”

***

My partner came up with a connection. It seemed tenuous. Both vics rented apartments in buildings owned by the same guy, a Richard Jenkins.

“Let’s find out more about this guy and then pay him a visit,” I said.

In that process, we discovered that Jenkins was a vocal opponent of rent control, and the two vics were in rent-controlled apartments. We started forming a theory. Chen didn’t think much of it—she thought rents should be tied to market value if they were regulated at all. Pam, my wife, and I had lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn for some time. We couldn’t have afforded a rent tied to market value. Maybe your opinion is biased if you’ve benefitted from rent control or not? Didn’t know what landlords thought, but suspected that they wouldn’t be in favor. Complex problem: How do you provide housing for poor city dwellers in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the Big Apple?

Pam and I now lived in Clifton, New Jersey, living the American Dream with our kids and heavily mortgaged house. Rent control was in our past. Still didn’t like what I saw in Jenkins’s record—he even went after New York mayors on the issue. Did that make him a killer? Doubted it, but it was time to interview the man.

***

Of course, Jenkins’s penthouse was luxurious compared to the two vics’ apartments. A maid showed us into a comfortable study and indicated two seats in front of a modest desk. We waited.

I studied the walls. Ex-Marine mementos, including ribbons. As an ex-Navy man, I liked Marines. Tough hombres who generally have your back. One pic on the wall showed our landlord, a heavyset man-bear, standing in a small group with a Navy captain in the middle. My captain—in the sense that I’d served on his carrier long ago in another more dangerous life where choppers would carry us off to wreak havoc and destruction for the Pentagon.

“Isn’t that our old friend?” said Chen. He had participated on a few cases. I nodded. “That’s some coincidence.”

“Not really. Jenkins and I are about the same age. Could be a good recommendation for him.”

We talked about our families until Jenkins showed up. He shook both our hands. For me, his grip was strong. For Chen, he let up a bit. Chivalry not dead?

“I understand you both have served,” he said, taking his seat behind the desk.

Pointed at the pic. “The captain is a good friend.”

“For me too,” said Jenkins. “I guess there are a few cops who served.” We nodded. “They probably have to tone down the military bravura on the beat. We’re not a fascist state, thank God. What can I do for you, detectives?”

I explained our case. “The only connection between the two victims is they both were your tenants in rent-controlled apartments.”

He frowned. “And I’m a suspect? Good Lord! I work within the system. I have to. I don’t have to like the fact that other landlords don’t have to put up with rent control, of course. It’s a bit random, you know. I’ve never met these two people, by the way. Where did they live?” I told him. “Yeah, those are my buildings. I’ll have to check with the agency that handles the rentals. They should have sent flowers to relatives if they’re local.”

“They’re not,” said Chen. She checked her smartphone. “Do you have an alibi for the range of times established by the ME in the TODs?”

(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Nth Contact…

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

[In the sci-fi realm, we have subgenres like hard sci-fi, militaristic sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, and so forth. Star Trek episodes and movies can be considered everything except the first (reasonable scientific extrapolation is too often lacking). Star Wars movies are more akin to the last two. But the old stories that we now call space opera were a lot of fun. Consider this a bow to space opera with a wee bit of militaristic sci-fi and tongue-in-cheek. As they say, knowing the past can prevent us from committing errors in the present…]

Nth Contact

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Captain Rick Hastings watched the screen. The Star Queen had just popped out of hyperspace and entered the unexplored solar system.

“AI, what am I seeing?” Something that sounded like a chaotic series of grunts, whistles, and sounds passing through several octaves filled the ship’s control room. “Standard, dimwit, not Draconian.”

“My apologies. I was conversing with Nigel. My sensors tell me there are several large starships in orbit around the fourth planet. More details will become available as we approach.”

“That’s not good,” said Nigel, his XO. Like many Draconians, the large humanoid had adopted a name that could be pronounced by Humans. The AI had no problem with his real name. “The last survey of this solar system showed it wasn’t inhabited. Should we write it off?”

“Because some ETs decided to steal our real estate?” He shook his mop of black hair, wiggled his eyebrows, and thought a few seconds. Compared to his XO, the captain wasn’t tall and had legs shorter than his torso. He looked stumpy in a uniform, a characteristic of many from his home planet where genetics had taken over adaption to a high-g environment. “Let’s at least take a look.”

“They’re coming to meet us,” said the AI, flashing up images of three ships speeding towards them.

“They don’t look friendly,” said the XO. “We should throttle back or take evasive maneuvers. Those look like missile-launching ports.”

“We can’t go FTL this close to the star,” said the Star Queen’s navigator.

“Take a course perpendicular to the planetary orbits,” Hastings told the AI.

“That’s an indeterminate command,” said the AI. “There are two possible—”

“Either way works! Just do it. Go FTL ASAP!”

“They launched missiles at us just before we went FTL,” the AI announced twenty seconds later.

“I’m getting my bearings,” said the navigator. Hastings waited. “Very clever, AI. We’ll pop up near base.”

“Forget about admiring a stupid machine. Just get us back to HQ. I’m going to my stateroom. I need some time to write up the report about this new contact.”

“Be sure and explain why you decided to confront the ETs who had taken possession of the solar system,” said the XO.

“Go to hell!” Hastings stomped out of the control room. He’d said it in Draconian, one of the few phrases he knew.

***

                “I’ve read your report.” Admiral Bonaventura studied his captain. “Did your XO forget to sign off on it?”

“My XO is a Draconian asshole. I’ll have his hide if he mentioned anything to you.”

Bonaventura frowned. “Am I a Draconian asshole too?”

Hastings retreated. “That remains to be proven. The Star Queen is a survey ship. I was doing a survey. Nothing says I can’t see who the trespassers are.”

“Your only weapons are found in your security detail’s small arms cabinets. What were you thinking? Whoever establishes the first colony claims the real estate.”

“Don’t you want to know what they were doing there? Colony ships aren’t battle cruisers.”
(more…)

Steve’s shorts: Snug Harbor…

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Snug Harbor

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

                Not all the colonists awoke. Cryosleep had a risk that compounded over time, and almost two centuries is a long time. Adriana Cisternino-Cho had to decide whether to eliminate her husband’s name. James Cho had died in transit.

The exobiologist threw herself into her work as soon as she recovered in the huge ship that was in orbit. She didn’t want to think of the bodies that were spaced and sent to burn up in the new planet’s atmosphere. Others needed to visit the psychologists. She’d stopped going after two sessions. Nothing was going to bring Jimmy back.

The starship Vasco da Gama, the sixth colony ship a dying Earth had launched, had been assembled in LEO. It used standard technology developed over two centuries of exploring Earth’s solar system augmented in scale to match the size of the ship. The AI had kept watch over its cargo of a fifty-member landing crew and thousands of frozen embryos. They had parked the ship in orbit around the fifth planet of another system.

Only thirty-three of the skeleton crew had survived. Tests showed all the embryos were probably OK.

Dyads and triads had formed among the survivors who had lost their significant others. Adriana wasn’t interested. It seemed that only yesterday Jimmy and she said their goodbyes and entered their cryochambers. You knew the risks, girl. That doesn’t make it any more bearable!

Although the tests showed all the embryos were probably OK, she wondered about their future. If the planet wasn’t a feasible home for a colony, everyone would die, unless there was some possibility of reprovisioning the starship. Hundreds of more years in cryo? I’d rather die!

***

Two exobiologists were in the first shuttle party to zoom in on the planet, more of a survey crew that checked out five possible sites in more detail. They had done all the surveying and probing they could do from orbit.

“More land area than Earth confirmed. Mild climates are commensurate with axis tilt, but polar regions are stable. Oxygen levels in agreement with normal photosynthesis of local vegetation, which is abundant. Omnivore herds are plentiful in interior plains of continents.”

The AI summarized their findings ad infinitum. Adriana almost dozed. After it finished, Scot Cobb, their temporary leader, said, “Any comments? Adriana? Don?”

“We saw herds but no predators,” said Don Chang.

“That’s an oddity,” Adriana said in agreement. “There has to be some mechanism to control their numbers.”

“Food shortages?” said Scot. “When those strange grasslands are wasted, maybe the herds die off.”

“A possibility,” said Adriana. Why am I so agreeable? She didn’t buy Scot’s conjecture. I must be tired.

“There might be some lemming phenomenon,” said Don. “It will be interesting to study.”

“Will we be able to eat anything on the planet’s surface?” said Roberto McLane, an exogeologist.

“Let’s hear the AI’s ranking of the landing sites and see if we agree with it.,” said Scot.

(more…)

Steve’s Shorts: 2035…

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

2035

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Regional Governor Ricardo Sandoval kept one eye on the protests in the NADA capital of Atlanta as he answered his videophone, the red one he generally kept under lock and key. It needed a thumbprint and voiced password.

His counterpart, Regional Governor Desmonda Bailey, appeared on the screen.

“Yeah, I’m watching. NADA’s propaganda machine is whipping them into a frenzy. I’m more worried about the massing of troops on our borders. Our only recourse might be the battlefield nukes.”

“A last recourse, but I agree,” said Bailey. “Our small forces would be run over by those fanatics.”

“At least NADA’s generals have two fronts to divide their forces, but you’re at a geographical disadvantage, Desmonda. They can roll across the Adirondack chain a lot easier than the Sierras and our other western mountains. Maybe the sanctions weren’t such a good idea.”

“Nonsense. Their Great Leader started paying attention when we voted them in. They were a logical first step for trying to make him come to his senses. I don’t know what our next steps should be, but I’m not about to let him and his hordes overrun our Region.”

“I’m with you on that. But my security team warns that they might take out our satcom. We have to be prepared to act unilaterally unless we can agree on something now.”

“Let’s define some plans, old friend. My people warn me this could escalate fast.”

***

The two leaders worked for an hour and a half, coming up with plans that both the Eastern and Western legislatures would pass given the emergency. They worked from scenarios already prepared and studied, originating in the collaborative defense departments.

When they finished, Sandoval told his aid to call for his limo. The trip to the capital was walkable, but the limo was used to keep his security detail happy.

During the trip, which took more time loading and unloading of security personnel on each end than travel time, he went through some historical antecedents he might include in his speech.

Things had gone to hell fast beginning in 2017. That contentious election for president had unleashed pent-up hatreds that had smoldered for years, even decades. Perhaps inevitable, he thought. Reasoned discourse went the way of the dinosaurs.

(more…)