As the elevator rose, the light in the car changed from the gentle glow of ambient daylight tempered by clouds and atmospheric scattering to the harsh bright lines and dark shadows of airlessness. Of course, even as fast as the elevator was traveling, the change was gradual, although still noticeable if you looked for it. If traveling at the right time, the effect was as striking as those early monochrome flat films that made a virtue out of the limitations of the medium, calling their defect “film noir” and treating it as art.
This was one of those rides, and unwittingly the ride was turning into a classic film noir even as the available natural light shifted from the hazy and shadowless tropical sunlight at the terminal in Ecuador to the harsh, concealing, and sharp shadows of film.
As the car slowly precessed around the stalk, the bright beams entering through the portholes scanned slowly across the scene.
We had ourselves a classic locked room scenario. The car had facilities for fifty or so passengers, but only a dozen were aboard for this run. It also had a small staff aboard, and a substantial cargo hold carrying goods destined for the growing ring, or for transport out of the system. Fifteen people locked in a small cabin for five days, and for all but the first few minutes with nothing but hard vacuum outside the door. With a mostly empty run came the luxury of spreading out. When all but the night watch had tucked in for the first night’s sleep, everyone had been able to close curtains and partitions to gain exactly as much privacy as they wanted, and more than would be available if the car had been full.
Precessing around the stalk was a simple way to equalize solar heating on the exterior structure of the car. It was also a recognition of the unlikelihood of dropping a ribbon of material from orbit to the ground without it naturally twisting. Twisting it deliberately allowed for control over the twist rate, and since the car gripped the ribbon it had to twist too as it traveled. Regardless of the details, the effect aboard was that bright spots of sunlight scanned over the cabin, revealing surprising details and concealing others in the dark shadows and inevitably dazzled eyes.
Today, the too bright light reveals a splash of bright red blood, then slowly scans along the blood splatter’s previous owner, now obviously very dead. And likely to become somewhat smelly if we didn’t take some steps soon.
But for now, the reality of the messy death of a passenger has not really sunk in. We are all in denial, and afraid to admit the key conclusion. If this was indeed murder (and it is difficult to imagine otherwise) then the murderer is still aboard. It could be any one of us. And the doors are locked up tight for another four days.
Four days of speculation. Four days of living with the crime scene, in a space that was already somewhat cramped. Four days of shifting loyalties, sudden accusations, and undoubtedly deliberate obfuscations. Four days to identify the murderer so that a solved case can be presented to authorities on our arrival at GEO. Four days for the lawyers on the ground (and at GEO station) to figure out what jurisdiction applies, and if a crime has even been committed.
Four days to identify a victim that no one will admit to knowing, with all passengers and crew still alive, present, and accounted for.
This is going to be a fun week.