The lights flickered and went out in the cell of the small jail on Turtle Station, a small outpost in the middle of nowhere. Dr. Dala, an older man of average height, blinked his dark brown eyes in the sudden darkness. The door creaked loudly. It swung in crookedly, in a listless manner that was entirely wrong for a solid out-swinging cell door. Dala saw a figure with a headlamp, a crowbar, and a pocket propane torch beckoning him to come out. He ventured out, and moved towards a crumpled figure with concern.
“He’ll live.” The headlamped figure hissed. “Come quick.”
Doc followed the figure through a bewildering mess of corridors into the lower decks of the station.
“Aren’t there cameras?” Asked Doc.
“Not here. It interferes with the locals' business dealings, so they get vandalized a lot.” Dagger answered quietly. Dagger was a non-descript man in his early 20s. He was a bit taller than the doctor, and pale from being indoors far too much.
“Why’d you come back for me?” Asked Doc.
“I felt bad, with you taking the rap for my deeds and all.” Dagger shrugged.
“That doesn’t sound like you.” Doc noted.
“True. Fine. The people who hired me now want me dead, because I botched the mission and you and Cade are still alive. I’ve been stabbed, and I want someone to fix it up, discreetly.”
“How do I know you won’t try to kill me?”
“Time’s up on that job. No payout. Just fix the wound, and hang around in case I get stabbed again, and I’ll get you off the station.” Dagger said.
“Are you planning on being stabbed again? I don’t want to be stabbed.” Doc stated.
“These things just happen.” Dagger hissed, and put a finger to his lips warningly. “Come with me or go back to your cell.”
Dr. Dala hesitated, looking back at the failed protective custody arrangement with a sense of loss. He shook his head in resignation and followed Dagger.
Time wore on slowly in Dagger’s hideout, somewhere in the underbelly of Turtle Station. Dagger’s injury was healing. It was not too bad, just painful. Dr. Dala estimated about a week had elapsed before Dagger’s plan to quietly leave Turtle Station was put in motion.
“Now - and I cannot emphasize enough how important this is - I should do all the talking.” Dagger insisted to Doc.
Doc tried to get his helmet set straight.
“You were taciturn and sullen the whole time you were pretending to be our entomologist.”
“So I wouldn’t get asked bug questions. I don’t know anything about bugs. I know what I’m doing here. You shhhh.” Dagger held a finger to his lips menacingly. “Also, back me up if anything happens.”
Dagger tucked his own helmet under his arm and marched out, with Doc following quietly behind. They came to a waiting room full of other applicants milling about.
“Are you all here for the security job?” Dagger asked incredulously.
“Yeah.” One responded with a shrug. “The numbers are over there.” He gestured to a ticket dispenser.
“Well, this won’t do at all.” Said Dagger. He thought for a minute, then put on his helmet.
“Everybody out!” He shouted. His helmet amplified his voice so it reverberated through the small room. He pulled a smoke bomb out, activated it, and just stood there. Many of the candidates scurried out, not willing to risk their lives before they were even on the payroll. One stood, and casually emptied a fire extinguisher onto Dagger’s hand. Dagger tried to punch him, but he quietly dodged and sat back down.
“Four openings. Three of us left.” The man said quietly.
“Ah. Well in that case.” Dagger said, and quickly locked the door to prevent any bolder candidates or late arrivals from adding competition for the job.
“This way please.” A voice from across the room announced. “All three of you.” The butler took their business cards as he led them into the prince’s study.
“John Milton, Independent Security Guard, and Jason Dagger of Weaponized Fists Protection Detail, with his associate.
“Marvelous!” Cheered the Duke. “That was the most entertaining interview I’ve seen yet. You’re all hired. Bert, keep the helmets when you assign uniforms, and have stripes painted to match the capes.” They followed Milton and Butler Bert’s example and bowed and left.
Back in the interviewing room, Bert eyed them.
“Milton’s in charge. I’ve worked with him before. Once you’re on the clock, tone down the theatrics. Your job is to identify and distract threats while I move the Duke to safety.” He guided them through some paperwork and security checks, then handed them each a key card.
“This is for our suite. A bunkhouse for the servants adjoins it. Put your stuff there, and be back here, in uniform, by 0300.”
“That’s it?” Doc asked when they were walking away.
“Yeah, he’s not really important. Or really wealthy. He just has the title, and hires some extras to impress. That’s why the pay is so bad. If you read through what we signed we’ll be doing everything from cleaning to waiting tables. He probably wants us to keep the helmets so he can pretend he has more than three servants.”
“Then why are we doing this?”
“They didn’t pay for full security checks. The ship won’t double-check the Duke’s entourage. Easy.”
A shadow rippled away from Turtle as the Invisible Velvet took off. It was as black as the inner void of a black hole, and it was more detectable by the light it blocked then what little light it emitted. The underlit interiors rippled with curtains, and oversized posh furniture that had been all the rage among the upper class, albeit several decades ago. It was clean, anyway. Doc stood on guard outside the Duke’s suite, ceremonial spear in hand. There were a few others standing guard along the hall, neatly decked out in modern suits. Doc wore a long cape and loose uniform tunic. Boot-shaped covers attached to his shoes and went up his shins. It was the perfect uniform to fit almost any adult male, regardless of size. It was well-made, at least, and the rippling blue cape felt very formal against his gray tunic and boots. The black pants he had supplied himself, or rather, Dagger had sourced some that fit decently well, as long as some white dress shirt for dinner work later.
Despite the early hour, a fair number of people were coming through the hall with luggage, settling in after a last-minute boarding. A middle-aged lady with light curls frowned deeply at him as she passed, and pulled a card out of her purse.
“See that Albert gets this.” She ordered, and marched on shortly. A younger lady followed, dragging a burdened luggage cart.
Dr. Dala passed the card on to Bert the card when Dagger relieved him from guard duty later that morning.
“That was the Duke’s cousin, Theodora.” Bert explained. “She’s in politics. Just watch for reporters around and stall the Duke if you see her again. Her handlers will take it from there.”
Doc nodded. This was an odd job, but it would be over soon. The days passed quietly.
“Cade’s here.” Dagger stated, waking Doc up as he came into their small shared sleeping area.
“Shhhh.” Doc glared at him. He had another good 20 minutes to rest before he had to get up and stand, and sort dishes and fetch things until his feet and joints ached. Dagger seemed immune to both the glare and the drudgery. The joys of youth.
“That Danny fellow is here too, disguised as part of the engine crew.” Dagger said casually.
“Daniel’s an engineer. He’s probably working. Good for him.” Doc turned his glare to the upper bunk. It was useless trying to go back to sleep.
“And Cade?” Dagger pressed.
“She’s off your hit list, right?”
“None of your business then.”
“Oh come on Doc.”
An alarm blared softly, and the ship’s intercom announced “This is your Captain speaking. There has been a criminal incident. For your safety, please lock yourselves in your cabins while our security team investigates.” Instead of a repeat message, there were several angry voices clearly yelling at the Captain about pirates and not paying ransoms, which were quickly cut off.
Doc sighed and prepared to go back to work. Dagger looked incredibly annoyed at the intercom.
The intercom returned with a calm voice “We apologize for the interruption. We are investigating an internal criminal incident. We ask you to remain secured in your cabins while our security team investigates, in order to expedite the process and ensure your safety while we apprehend the responsible party. Again, this is an internal incident, and our security is here to ensure your safety. Please stay in your cabins, so we can resolve this quickly.”
Milton stuck his head in. “Dagger, go ahead and go off duty, but be ready to go quick when called. Dr. Dala, with me please.”
“You know my name?” Doc was surprised, as he had signed his name illegibly to align with whatever forgery Dagger was pushing.
“I checked with Turtle Security. Clean record, by the way, unlike your companion here.” Milton noted. “Anyway, come.” He continued seriously. Dr. Dala went with Milton to see the Duke, who was clearly upset. Milton quietly excused himself.
“Theodora’s dead. Poisoned.” The Duke said flatly. He waved his hands in the air, “She was just, just.” His voice trailed off and he slumped into a couch, and buried his head in his hands. Bert brought in some hot tea.
“Their call was recorded.” Bert said quietly. “Ship security already has a copy. We’d like you to watch the video, and tell us what killed her and when it would have been administered.”
“Pardon,” said Doc “shouldn’t we let the ship security handle this?”
“We will.” The Duke nodded. “I want an independent opinion.”
“I’ll do what I can, sir.” Dr. Dala said solemnly. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Bert led him to a small room, and replayed the video. The lady from the hall earlier was there, dressed in a formal gown with pearls. There was a wine glass in her hand. She was tired, and complaining of a headache, and had a long conversation with the Duke while they both sipped wine from their respective suites. From the conversation, it seemed like the Duke was prone to romantic and press disasters, and Theodora tried to keep him quiet for the sake of her political career. Bert quietly moved into the frame to refill the Duke’s glass, and left again. Theodora suddenly slumped over in the chair as her wine glass hit the floor. She did not move again. Doc replayed the moment several times, slowing it down each time.
“Why did the Duke think she was poisoned?” asked Dr. Dala.
“Do you disagree?” responded Bert.
“I can’t tell.” said Doc.
“What can you determine?” asked Bert.
“She was tired and had a headache, which could be poisoning, but she seems pretty coherent here, and her behavior stayed the same until she collapsed. I don’t know what she’s usually like, so I don’t know if she was acting odd. She jerks her head here.” Doc paused the video at the right moment. “But I can’t tell if there’s an outside force. She’s really pale after she collapses, but I can’t see an injury or blood because of how she’s fallen.”
“Could you at least give a timeframe?”
“Yes. At this point there is no breathing, and no visible pulse.” Doc indicated the paused video. “Did help get there quickly?”
“We were told that the ship’s medical team was there within five minutes. The call stopped because the Duke ran to the other phone to call for help, and the call ended after 60 seconds due to inactivity.”
“If they couldn’t revive her, my best estimate is that she died when she collapsed. It looks sudden, but without any kind of toxicology report, I can’t rule out poisons or anything else. I’m sorry. Do you want me to tell the Duke?”
“I’ll handle that.” Bert said solemnly. “I do have a few more questions. How did you come to be traveling with your associate?”
“He broke me out of protective custody to help him with an injury. I’m not keen on this arrangement, but it was in my best interest to leave Turtle Station quietly, at least while there is a possibility someone wishes me ill.”
“Do you trust him?” asked Bert incredulously.
“He’s a mercenary. I trust him not to kill me unless he can get paid for it.” Doc shrugged. “Of all my travel options, this seemed the least deadly.”
“Who wants you dead?”
“That is an interesting web of conspiracy theories, which I would be happy to discuss at length, when I am sure of my own safety. It seems to be related to corporate finances, and not anything political. Back to Dagger, which is not, I believe his real name, I cannot rule him out as a suspect. I would also not rule him in without a monetary incentive in play, if that is what you are asking.”
“Who can you rule out?” asked Bert.
“Myself. I know I was not involved.”
“He was asleep.” Milton confirmed when Bert called him in. “We have internal logs on the doors. Dagger was on guard the whole evening, and Theodora did not pass through this hallway today. So he’s out too. Cameras are good, no tampering. Ship security will double-check that, of course.”
“The Duke was here, as were both of us.” Bert stated. “Milton, keep up security as if you can trust all five of us, including Dagger. We’ll run checks on all the food before any of us eat, and stay in our quarters. Then we just wait until more information is available.”
“Doc!” Dagger hissed at Doc, while Doc was slowly dicing some carrots. Dr. Dala nodded with patience.
“Do you have any information?”
“The Duke’s cousin has passed away suddenly. Nothing involving us is going on, so far as I know.” Doc finished with the carrots, scooting them neatly into a pan for cooking. “Do you have any active contracts or enemies which are going to cause a problem anytime soon?”
Dagger glared at him. “I have my business under control.” He looked tense, then added quietly, “If anything were to happen to me, your location would be sent to those who mean you harm. Call it insurance.”
“Don’t threaten me. If you could do that you’d have already sold my location for the cash. Now, why do you think something would happen to you?”
Dagger glared at him and left. Dala finished cooking his dinner, and enjoyed it with Milton in peace. Later that night, he was suddenly awakened by a crash and shouting outside their bunkroom. Milton and Dagger were fighting, and Dala saw Dagger pull a knife out of his boot. Bert and the Duke came in quietly. Bert had a pistol in his hand, and the Duke was carrying his ceremonial sword, which looked alarmingly sharp in the dim light of the quarters. Seeing he was outnumbered, Dagger sheathed his knife, and leaned against the wall.
The Duke stepped in, and held his sword towards Dagger. “Why did my cousin Theodora send you money?” He asked coldly. Bert eyed the sword warily, prepared to intervene.
“It’s a private matter.” Dagger said coldly.
“She’s dead. Would the ship's security be interested in this private matter?” Asked the Duke.
“I had nothing to do with what happened. She hired me to do a job. I haven’t had a chance to get it done.”
“A private job. Nothing to do with anything.” Dagger shrugged. “As I’ve said, I haven’t finished it yet.”
“If she hired you to harass somebody, that person could have reason to kill her.” Bert noted somberly.
“I haven’t done anything yet! I can’t be in trouble for not causing trouble!” Dagger protested.
“You are in trouble for having a large, unexplained, transfer of money from my dear cousin, who appears to have been murdered.” The Duke said coldly.
“Fine. She thought her separated husband was smuggling drugs. She hired me to get rid of the drugs. I haven’t done anything yet.”
“Was he?” Asked Bert.
“I don’t know. It’s not like smuggled drugs get labeled with the owners' names.” Dagger said with annoyance.
The ship’s security came around to question everyone that evening. As Doctor Dala was asleep at the time of the incident, and his whereabouts prior to that accounted for, they had very little interest in him. The next day everyone was allowed out of their cabins to eat and mingle, despite no official announcements being made on the progress of the case. The Duke and his servants stayed in, not having anything safer to do. That evening, Theodora’s newly widowed husband suddenly died of a drug overdose. The press had caught the story by now, and ran all caps headlines relating the late Senator Theodora had been shot.
Dagger and Doc were alone in the bunkroom.
“What would it take to shoot someone quietly in a small room, and remain unseen?” asked Doc.
“Quietly? Maybe a railgun or a crossbow. If you knew where the person was, maybe just shoot them through a wall, but that much force would be noisy.” Dagger thought. “It’d have to be something remotely operated. But, if you’re talking about the senator, her staff should have been scanning for any odd signals. It would be easier just to shoot her in a crowd while she’s out and about.”
“How much of a signal? Could it just be a command to fire?”
“Theoretically, yes. Realistically, anything small enough to be that quiet’s going to need a very good aim. What are you getting at?”
“She died on a call with the Duke. It was recorded. The Duke asked me to watch to determine the cause of death.”
Dagger blinked, and stared at Doc for a full minute, thinking. “I still need you alive for a while.” He said suddenly.
“So, we’re going out for drinks now, and you need to just follow my lead.”
“But shouldn’t I stay out of sight?”
“Yes. And not work on murder cases where the suspects are still at large, and know you’ve seen important evidence. But here we are, and here we go.” They left quickly. Milton was on guard duty, and cheerfully called out that he expected to be relieved in a couple hours. Dagger told him not to worry with the same cheerful energy. Dala followed the younger man as they weaved chaotically through everything. They wound up at a passenger cabin door on a shabbier level.
“You knock, she doesn’t like me.” Dagger stated. Doc knocked, and was shoved from behind into the towering Danny as the door swung open. Dagger used the fall to squeeze himself into the doorframe.
“Is Cade here?” Dagger asked. Danny swung at him, and he dodged. “Okay, I’m taking that as a yes.” Dagger pulled Doc up from where he was trying to stand, using him as a shield from Danny. “No matter what happens next, stay off the lifeboats. Stay here.” Dagger ran.
“Are you okay? What are you doing with him?” Danny demanded.
“What’s going on?” Cade demanded, weakly propping herself up on the doorframe with one hand, gun ready in the other.
“Captain!” Doc and Danny rushed to help her and she waved them off.
“Cara, please. I’m not your captain anymore. What’s going on?”
Doc explained, and finished “so Senator Theodora’s murder seems like an inside job. I don’t know the motives, but both the Duke and his butler Bert had the opportunity. I’d say the butler, because the senator knew him by name, and they were coordinating security, so he may have had access to her cabin to plant the projectile. Could have been one of her servants too, of course, but I don’t know their whereabouts.”
“Her staff had a surprise night off, except for the guy on guard duty. Birthday or something. They were giving interviews this morning.” Cade said quietly.
“That really narrows it down.” Said Danny. “I think you and that problem character narrowly missed being arrested or involved with the ship’s investigation.”
“He’s going by Dagger now.” Doc explained. “There’s more. Senator Theodora paid him to do something. I don’t think he had the opportunity to give her husband an overdose, but he was gone early the day Theodora died, and I’m pretty sure drug smuggling is involved.”
“We land in two days. Stick with us until then.” Cara Cade said seriously.
“I’d feel safer if someone is here to protect the captain while I work.” Danny added.
The lights cut out, and an emergency siren blared across the ship.