Station of Shards
Life as a private detective aboard a space station isn't the most exciting, usually involving nothing more than background checks and the occasional surveillance, but Kelley has no real complaints. Still, when his friend and sometimes lover Simon comes to him with something new, he's not going to complain about that either—except for the part where figuring out what's going on might get him and Simon killed.
At some point, you'd think I'd know better. Really. Each time Simon walked into my office, I ended up either in jail or running.
This time it was both.
"What the hell did you get me into?" I gasped out between breaths.
"Oh, just shut up and move! I think we've almost lost them!"
When I'd first met Simon, it was for an interrogation. I was supposed to be on vacation, traveling to my new space-station home, but Lea, my sister and first officer on the Runner, ratted me out as an investigator to the captain. Instead, I was given a contract (of sorts) and a job: figure out who was stealing from crew and company cabins across the ship. Generally, the security detail on a Class F starship would take care of this, but since the security database had basically imploded, Captain Nill wanted an outsider's perspective.
The captain set aside a small suite of rooms to work from, and I had turned one into a temporary interrogation room. I thought it used to be a closet. Though what it was storing, I had no idea. At that point, it still smelled vaguely of cheese.
Simon, an engineer and trainee medic, was the closest thing to a witness I had. He hadn't really seen enough to be any more useful than what little security footage remained from the database purge.
"So," I sighed, out of options except to keep trying. "Let's go through this again."
Simon thunked his head on the table wedged into the tiny space. "Seriously? Why? There's nothing else! I was headed down the hall towards my quarters when I saw a guy leave the passenger's room. I thought it was odd 'cause he was in a security uniform and would have no reason to be in passenger cabins. The end."
"Okay, well, let's go back to this guy. Security uniform. What else did you notice about him?"
"He was too far away! I could barely see anything!"
"But you recognized the uniform. What about his hair? His build? Height? Weight? Skin tone?"
"Dark hair, tannish skin, regular build. No idea how tall."
This was getting us nowhere. I had an idea, though, and one that would at least get us away from the smell of stale cheese.
A few minutes later, we were in the hallway in question. I sent Simon to the end of the hall and went to stand by the passenger door.
"Okay, let's try this again. Is this about how far away you were?"
"Yeah, looks about right."
"Okay, compare me to this guy." I turned away from Simon and moved into the position he had described. I could still hear Simon down the hall behind me, but the area was quiet. It was late—since Simon was on the graveyard shift, he didn't even wake up until dinnertime—and most passengers were already asleep. The passenger hall wasn't a hotbed of staff activity, either. We were the only two in sight.
"Taller or shorter than me? Compared to the door?"
"Shorter, I think, by just a bit. His hair was darker than yours. Shorter. Regulation length, I think, so a lot shorter. His skin was definitely lighter than yours in this light. He was a bit broader too."
I was about to turn around when I heard Simon gasp. I spun quickly and saw his face. He looked stricken, like someone had come up behind him and stabbed him in the back. I moved quickly down the hall towards him.
"What is it? Did you remember something?"
"Yeah." He shuddered. "I know who it was."
Simon's information quickly led us to the stash of stolen items. Unfortunately for Simon, it was in his rooms. The rooms he shared with his boyfriend, who was in charge of the graveyard shift of the ship's security detail. To this day, I could remember Simon's face when the rest of the security pulled his world apart and led his boyfriend away.
We were only a few days out at that point. For whatever reason, Simon kept seeking me out. He didn't say much, but when I sat down for a meal, he'd be there in a minute. When I went to the lounge, he joined me for a game of cards. His barriers eventually broke down after an evening of fairly heavy drinking with me and my sister. It was then that I actually started to care about the guy. After everything he had already been through, he was done with the ship. And I couldn't blame him.
The next day, nursing a hangover, we met over lunch.
"So we'll be at the station day after tomorrow," I mentioned, going for casual. It didn't work well, but it was worth the shot.
Simon's bloodshot eyes looked at me over his mug of caffeine. "Yeah?"
"Well, it's just I was thinking about what you said last night. That you wanted out of here." I waved my own mug at the room, gesturing to the whole ship. "I was thinking you could join me on the station. You're an engineer, right? These places always need more engineers and mechanics." And, I thought privately, I could use the company. I had spent far too much time on my own, and this kid had caught my attention. I wasn't sure what it was about him. He certainly hadn't bounced back from his ex's betrayal yet, but he was obviously smart. We'd talked a bit about books and movies, about sports (I would always be an American football fan, but apparently there was something to be said for gymnastics and fencing), and I liked him. That was all I needed to know at the time.
Simon's eyes had cleared as I spoke. He studied me for a moment, still holding his mug up to his face. After a few seconds had passed, he closed his eyes and took a sip. "Sure," he said, looking into my eyes again. "Could be fun."