Deal 652: Locked room to orbit

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.


Deal 650: Duty

She stands guard duty nightly over the sock pile. Once can’t be too careful about preventing sock gnomes. In her lifetime tenure, she has a perfect record of gnome prevention, and she doesn’t want tonight to be the night where that record falls.

The gnomes watch too. They know that eventually her attention will slip.

The eternal battle between sock guardian and gnome continues nightly.

It is unlikely that tonight will change the outcome.

Yet, She stands her guard diligently over the sock pile, and the gnomes are once again prevented.


Deal 649: William gets a nudge.

The tent flap was open when William approached. He distinctly remembered noticing that while it was open, it somehow wasn’t welcoming. And yet, he dared its moods and stepped inside.

Inside the dim tent, he expected to find a crone quietly cackling over a teapot, a crystal ball, or other obvious trappings of the seer.

He didn’t. He found me, and I am certainly not a crone. Or old. Or cackling.

Although, to be completely fair, I have been known to chortle occasionally. And I do consort with the occasional black cat and black bird and live in a black tent which opens and closes as it sees fit. So perhaps although he had the details wrong, he did actually find what he had expected. Just not as he expected to find it, as it were.

So William found my tent, and dared its moods and entered, and found me at my bench. He was about to step away, but I stopped him.

“Sit down, silly boy,” I said quietly. As I spoke, the tent flap closed, blocking much of the noise from outside.

He stepped further in, looked around, and sat on the other stool, facing me. “I am,” he began.

“William, in disguise as town folk, but obviously not from here originally,” I finished for him. “You obviously the one that my tent has been rustling about all morning. Let’s get a better look at you then.”

At a gesture, two more lamps lit and the tent’s interior brightened. At least a little, and primarily where the young man sat. My corner naturally remained dark, as the lights understood who was in charge even if the tent did have a mind of its own.

“Who you were once is immaterial now, as you have voluntarily entered where most dare not tread, sat were most would dare not sit, and demonstrated your lack of fear by continuing to converse with me. That marks you, and you will find you in turn will leave footprints whatever you undertake. This worries you a bit. Good. It was meant to.”

I picked up my cards, and dealt three to the table. The cards were rather pointed in their surface meaning. “That’s about as much fun as the proverbial poke in the eye with a short stick. That is the sort of thing the tent does, provide pointed warnings. You will leave your mark, and you have little choice about it. You know your course of action, and should embark with gusto.”

I dealt three more. “On the other hand, doing nothing out of fear will only cause the fates to continue to toy with you as a cat will with its prey. Your fate then is worse than if you embrace the inevitable willingly.”

I held the deck suggestively, but he stood and stepped back.

“Can I afford your advice?” he asked.

“Can you afford to ignore it?” I answered.

The tent chortled for me, and opened its flap on a slightly different town square, at a slightly different time.

“Go forth William, and follow the path you already see forming before you. It will not be an easy road, for you will spend much time arguing with your muses and finding the right form for the ideas. When the time is right, you will remember more of what you saw in my tent today, but in the short term those images will leak into what you are writing and improve it. And when push comes to shove you must always remember that if you don’t seem to have words that mean what you need at hand, you can make up new ones and give them orders to mean what you need them to.”

He looked puzzled at that.

“Don’t worry, all will become clear in time. Go, now, William. Your destiny awaits.”

He nodded, and stepped out of the tent.

I watched as he stepped away, then looked around in surprise as he noticed that we weren’t where we started. He looked back for me then, but the tent had taken a step sideways by then, so there was nothing for a mere mortal, fools that they are, to see. Other than the quiet town of Stratford, and the river Avon in the distance.