Was Sherlock Lonely, Too?
Nobody ever believed murders "just happened" around Mallory Viridian.
Not at first, anyway.
Before 2032, she figured she was an unlucky kid in that she'd been adjacent to three deaths, at separate times. college, she witnessed four murders (unrelated) and, this time, helped solve them.
She began to worry after she solved her third and fourth cases: two unrelated murders while on a college summer trip. She wasn't trained in crime scene investigation and she wasn't even a big fan of mystery novels. Still, she was the only one to spot that the key clue to the murder of a room service waiter was not the shotgun, but a tacky, wet popsicle stick.
Despite this solve, the detectives were not impressed.
"I would have found it eventually," Detective Kelly Brady had barked, his cheeks still pink from being teased by a beat cop about the popsicle stick.
Even the investigators who accepted her help in solving cases didn't believe Mallory had done this before. She was twenty-two, a college dropout, and a civilian. What did she know about a murder investigation?
After she'd solved five cases, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation started getting interested in her.
Mallory knew what to expect when she pounded on Adrian Casserly-BerryÕs door at five in the morning local station time. He would crack the door, eyes slitted in suspicion; he would see her and relax, and the air of suspicion would ease and annoyance would take over.
And if he didn't come to the door, or told her what she didn't want to hear, she would have to figure things out on her own.
I could always run. The thought was always at the back of her mind.
But he would see her, she knew. Adrian tolerated her because she was the only other human he knew of aboard the Space Station Eternity, and even ambassadors got lonely. Even if he was missing only the superior feeling he got when he pulled ambassador rank on a civilian. He was important and had a job aboard the station, while Mallory was pretty much a leech on society, or a hobo at best. He had political power; she had nothing more than sanctuary.
Mallory had found that she could easily placate people like that by not threatening their power directly and reminding them constantly of their titles. "Ambassador Casserly-Berry!" she called. Then she pounded again.
She normally didn't ambush him early in the morning, but she'd been up to use the restroom and casually glanced at the news. After she'd translated the symbols, she ran down the station hallways in her pajamas to pound on his door. But the ambushing might work in her favor, she reasoned, since she usually could startle an honest answer out of him when he let his Important Ambassador mask slip.
He was taking a while. She wondered if he was coming out of a drunken sleep or wanted to get dressed before he answered the door. She guessed the former; few people stopped to get presentable when woken up early by insistent pounding.
It turned out it was both. The door finally slid open about four inches, and a bloodshot eye peered out. Mallory could smell vodka on his breath and took a cautious step backward. Adrian's eyes were thin with suspicion and barely concealed hostility. He saw her, relaxed, and then looked merely annoyed. But when he opened the door to her, not only was his hair combed, but he was wearing a dress shirt and blue trousers. A loose tie hung around his neck. Even hungover, he looked almost presentable, while she was still in the T-shirt and pajama bottoms she had slept in.
"Why are you dressed this early like you have a trust fund meeting?" she asked, baffled.
"Hedge fund," he corrected automatically. He sniffed. "I have an early meeting with station officials. What do you want, Mallory?"
She looked past him, trying to focus. She hated that he had been the one to throw her off, using nothing more than a tie and a comb. Still, judging by his looks, his hangover was a big one, and she could use that to her advantage.
"I figured you'd be in meetings all day, so I wanted to catch you beforehand," she said. She took a deep breath and relaxed her shoulders. "I have some human-related business. Can I come in, please?"
He didn't step aside. "What human-related business do you have that I don't already know about?"
"Let me in and I'll tell you," she said.
He sighed and stepped aside. The door opened all the way, and she stepped inside his quarters. The door slid closed behind her.
"God, it smells like my grandmother's freezer in here," she said, looking around his quarters. "Were you having a party of one?"
While stinking of vodka, his rooms still appeared neat and efficient (and larger than hers). The bed was made, the closet closed, the desk free of books or papers, the laptop turned off. Even the vodka bottles were arranged neatly, three full bottles on the right side of the small kitchenette sink, three empties on the left.
"Ms. Viridian, what do you want?" he asked stiffly. "I need to keep getting ready for my meeting. I like to look presentable before I leave my quarters. It shows people I respect them." He straightened his tie and cast a pointed look at her clothes.
She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. We need to talk. Can I sit?"
"No, say what you need to and then go." He gestured toward the door and manually slid it open.
She flopped onto his one easy chair, trying to force a casual position. "When were you going to tell me about the humans?"
He paused for a moment and then closed the door again. "What other humans beyond you and me are you talking about?"
"Adrian, I found out about the shuttle," she snapped. "The shuttle full of vacationing humans on its way to the station, who's apparently now just letting anyone on. Don't act like you don't know."
His face, already pale, grew white, emphasizing the small mole on his cheek. "Tell me everything you know."
"What, that Eternity is changing its position on allowing humans as a species to come aboard? That we won't be the only people here very shortly? Tourists, diplomats, businesspeople, even the military!" She took a deep breath and forced herself to lower her voice. "How could you not tell me?"
He rubbed his face with both hands. "I don't know anything about this. How did you find out?"
"Are you kidding me? You're supposed to be negotiating for Earth tourism, and it's happening without you doing anything? What the hell have you been doing, if not that?"
"How did you know?" he yelled. "Why did they tell you and not me?"
She sat up straighter and held her hands out. "Whoa, hold on, it's okay. Sheesh. Are they really keeping you in the dark?" He nodded. "Okay, I've been trying to learn the station layout, iconography, and basic universal symbols, on top of the laws so I don't accidentally get arrested. Again. Anyway, the early news this morning said a human shuttle would be here shortly. I thought you would get a daily news briefing as part of your ambassadorial breakfast or whatever your routine is."
He stiffened. "I do. An ambassador's report is read to me every morning."
"It's read to you? You don't read it yourself?"
His pale face flushed, two red spots appearing on his cheeks. "The station host reads it to me," he said.
"So you meet with Ren and he tells you what he wants you to hear," she said. "You know he doesn't like us, right? That's exactly why I have been trying to get the news that everyone else on this damn station has, not just what he wants me to know. Why would you trust him?"
"That's not the point," Adrian said, looking down at the carpet as if it offended him.
"Yeah, the point is we have to stop them," Mallory said. "Especially if you don't know what they're doing here."
"But why would they change their mind about allowing more humans to come?" he mused, ignoring her. "None of my arguments have worked."
"Well, someone did something, because the station is ready to allow humans aboard. You promised me you would tell me if that ever happened. Now I don't know who to be mad at. If you're telling the truth, of course. Usually not diplomats' and politicians' strong point."
He walked to the kitchenette and put the kettle on. "Have you been saying anything? Going above my head?"
"Are you kidding? Adrian, I came here to get away from humanity. I definitely don't want them following me," she said. "When I got here, the station seemed pretty adamant about allowing only a few humans on board, so it seemed perfect for me."
The kettle screamed its achievement of boiling water and Adrian jerked it off the element, wincing. He must have a hell of a headache, she thought. He retrieved a mug from his shelves above the sink and then a tea bag from a small basket on his counter. He went on with his tea-making ritual with his back to her.
Mallory grew tired of the silence. "Do you think Earth knows that someone else did the diplomatic negotiating? Think they're sending someone to take your place?"
"Don't bait me, Mallory," he said quietly, picking up the mug in both hands and facing her. He inhaled the steam, eyes closed.
Mallory nearly said she hoped a new ambassador would offer their guests tea, but Adrian was pretty tightly wound right now. There was something alarming about the way he was keeping himself perfectly still, like a waiting snake. She mentally prepared herself to dodge a mug of boiling water if he let loose.
She cleared her throat. "May I also have some tea, please?" She asked it just the way her mother insisted she do when she was young.
He looked at her for a long moment as if he didn't understand her words and then turned around, face still stony. Behind him, hanging below the shelves against the wall, was a wooden dowel. Slung over the dowel and secured with a thumbtack were about twenty used tea bags. He removed one and prepared her tea.
"An old tea bag? Really, Adrian?" she protested.
"I have to ration when I don't know when I'll get back home again," he said woodenly. "If I'd known they were coming, I could have asked someone to bring me some more tea. I was denied that option." He cleared his throat, and then his voice took on his smoother diplomatic tone. "About the incoming humans-it's a good thing, Mallory. Trade will increase. Doctors will visit. Diplomats will come to make the situation better on Earth. We might get closer to negotiating for FTL technology. People will bring us news. Media. More books and games. I know you don't like people, but it's undeniable-"
She stopped him before he got into full diplomat monologue mode, holding up her hand. "Wait, wait, wait, you still think I don't like people?" she echoed in disbelief. "Jesus, when are you going to believe me? I like people just fine. They just tend to not like me."
He had the full diplomatic face on, and he smiled benignly and spread his hands in the classic way to defuse arguments without actually conceding. "What can I do to make things better? Can we find a compromise?"
"You can listen to me when I tell you that letting that shuttle dock will very likely result in someone getting killed," she said, glaring at him from behind bangs that hadn't been cut in three months. "You can go to your meeting and tell them to send the humans back home."
"You knew this was what we were working toward, and it's much bigger than you and your personal problems. This is a big step for humanity and long overdue," he said patiently. "What if one of us humans gets appendicitis and there's no one who understands human anatomy? Having humans on board who can handle our medical needs is good for both of us!"
She got to her feet. "If you won't listen to me, I'll ask for a meeting with the station folks. I can still get this changed."
He shook his head slowly. "That's not going to work. They're not going to deny a new race access to the station based on one person's paranoia. And if you succeed you will be responsible for single-handedly holding back humanity from scientific evolution. Do you want that on your tombstone?"
"If humans come aboard, we will be writing the epigraph for someone's tombstone, but it won't be mine," she said, defeat weighing on her shoulders.
Nobody--really, nobody--believed murders "just happened" around Mallory.
After two years of college and four murders in six months, she had tried therapy.
Dr. Miller first said she'd seen too many murder mystery shows and didn't believe her when she said she wasn't a fan of them. Then he suggested possible paranoid schizophrenia. Or maybe just paranoia. She left the appointment with a prescription for brexpiprazole that she didn't fill.
During her second appointment, Miller's receptionist became number eight when she was murdered while Mallory and the doctor were arguing in the next room. When they discovered the body, Dr. Miller accused her instead of validating her, and then, when she obviously had a perfect alibi, refused to treat her further.
He didn't appreciate her solving the crime either. Probably because the killer had been his own wife, who had been convinced he was sleeping with the victim.
She'd turned to religion next. She didn't care which; she just made a list of places one could worship in Raleigh and rolled a die. Each holy leader she spoke with told her to trust in a variety of higher powers, give herself over to Christ, follow the Tao, meditate, pray, volunteer, whatever. They each thought she was presenting a troubled mind that their faith could focus, not a real problem. But she couldn't just magically believe in something; she had trouble believing in what was actually happening in front of her.
"Miracles happen daily if we just open ourselves to it," one priest had said while she was in confession. He hadn't wanted to call it a miracle when, while hearing Mallory's confession, a parishioner had been murdered in the church's parking lot. The church had not admitted she was right; they instead accused her of orchestrating the crime. This was her ninth murder and she should have known better.
Copyright © 2022 by Mur Lafferty. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.