OK, this time I went way over 350 words, to a shocking 765 words. Sorry about that. We’re also considering putting a portion of these into a Kindle book, so watch the Internets for that, huh?
The Palomino Station Murder
When the computer told me there was more oxygen in the air, I just had a feeling something was wrong. Same thing with the sump flow – there wasn’t as much as usual. Someone was missing.
Palomino Station isn’t big enough to have a sheriff. There’s hardly any crime to speak of. There’s nowhere to run, nothing to steal, and few items are so precious that the owner won’t lend them to you if you ask nicely. We’re all station-born, so everyone here knows you and your fathers from birth.
As the system administrator, I’m the closest thing we have to law around here. I set out to find the Conner twins.
We don’t have cameras or sensors all over the place (‘cept in the high-rad areas), because we like our privacy. But it wasn’t long before I found Cody Conner on the promenade deck, pitching woo with Becky Clevinger. He was pitching pretty hard, too.
“Let’s get out of this little town,” he said. You could tell he was desperate, but he was trying not to show it. Becky just thought it was love. “Just hijack an escape pod, a few years in stasis, and we can get to a real planet.”
“A real planet,” Becky demurred. “With all that gravity.”
“I have a little money -,” Cody caught himself short when he saw me, and turned white as a sheet.
“Cody,” I said. “Where is your brother?”
He didn’t try to run. There was nowhere to go on Palomino. He just hung his head and cried.
The Conner twins had been feuding over Becky Clevinger for about three years, ever since the old animal urges started. She was 18, and they were 16.
Usually, we try to synchronize births, but Becky and the Conner twins were a kind of half-generation all to themselves. There was no other youth within 5 years of them. Even if there had been, I think the Conner twins would have still been head over heels for Becky.
For her part, Becky liked the attention some, and she liked them OK as people, but I don’t know that she relished the choice. But her next option was Harry Thompson, age 12, who liked to shoot rubber bands; or to be a junior wife to an older couple. She took a skeptical eye to her two suitors and she set herself in for a long siege.
The airlocks all kept records, so it wasn’t hard to tell what happened to poor Bill Conner. Mr. Vikas unlimbered the telescope and found him floating out in space some 700,000 kilometers in our wake, body heat moving to the low parts of Kelvin. We thought about going to pick up the body, but we were short on rocket fuel, and floating in space was no less dignified than going into the recycler. So out in space he floats.
We held a service, though. Mr. Vikas said a few words, and we sang a few of the old songs. We let the Conner boy come, and he wept and swore it was an accident and his mother hung on him the whole time. His father stood stone-faced, but he held his arm tight around Mrs. Conner, and she held onto young Cody, so I suppose he held his son in his own way. He was losing two sons that day.
It was I who administered the punishment. I loaded young Cody into the autodoc while his mother held his hand and shhhhed that it’d be alright. Doc Wilson put in the sedative. I fitted the helmet on his head, and the autodoc did its work, cutting out all the spark and leaving what was sweet and compliant. On the frontier, we’re too few to allow murderers to get away, but we’re also short of strong backs.
So now he does what we ask, and works hard, and everyone more-or-less likes him. Those that don’t like him avoid him, but he’s not sharp enough to notice. He dotes after young Becky for reasons he can’t quite remember, and she seems sort of fond of him.
We saved a little of Cody’s material, not that Becky’d want to have a murderer’s child, but the Conners have always been good breeding stock and I reckon it’s the same as Bill’s. Mr. and Mrs. Conner would never ask, but I don’t doubt that Becky considers it. Sometimes she seems a bit wistful as she considers Harry Thompson, or a few of the older couples.
And that’s that. That’s the record of the Palomino Station murder.