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Murder on the Mars Express: Chapter 4

Chapter 4:

Blood Before Breakfast

They had only been on the transport a week, and already Nick had established a routine.  Wake early, well before Io, dress and perform a morning constitutional.

The transport had been dug out of a NEO, and its orbit shifted long ago.  A few thousand near earth objects are slung about by gravity… doing their eternal penance.  The first settlers hollowed them out, the first wave lived in them… called them home.  It was they who spun up the asteroid to generate earthlike gravity.  Later it was something of a frontier town.

Eventually the asteroid was changed into a bus.  A hum-drum transport for people and goods between the Earth system and Mars.  For safety reasons the interior was divided into five self-sustainable compartments.  One held the main environmental controls, power grid, communications and so on.  Each also held its own compliment of crew and their quarters.

The remaining four sections were a combination of people and cargo.  Around each section was a hallway which connected with a door to a further hallway to each of the sections.  One to the common room which served as a cafeteria, lounge, game room and church on occasion.  Another to the crew’s quarters.  Several to the passengers and two further corridors to locked and sealed cargo containers.  It was along this outermost corridor he strode quickly.

At step two thousand and forty two he heard footsteps behind him.  After the incident with the mystery lover Nick’s walks had been quite solitary.  He continued on and listened to the steps.  The walker seemed hesitant, yet hurried closer and closer.  He surmised the walker was taller than himself, but that was quite easy to achieve.  At five feet five nearly everyone was taller.  Soon the walker was close enough that he’d had enough.  Nick stopped dead and turned.

He was in his mid thirties by his looks.  Tawny hair, fair skin, but thickening around the midsection.  By his clothes, a pair of handmade Italian slacks, black, a pair of black New York shoes, Marco Blanco, also black, which were totally impractical for a walk, and a jumper that bore the corporate logo of a mining corporation, GemStar, Nick infered he was a quickly rising star in the corporate race sent out to some outpost to cut his teeth on some challenging project.  Fly or fry.

He stopped beside Nick and promptly bent double to catch his breath.  Exercise did not seem to be corporate policy.

“I- I was going… I was going to ask if I could join you, but-”

“Hmm.”

“-but I doubt I could keep up.”

“Indeed.”  Nick replied.  He swallowed, straightened up and offered his hand.

“Roger Hamagami.”

“Dr. Nicklaus Kolthammer.”  They continued on together, but far slower than before.  The asteroid’s rotation afforded it about eighty five percent of Earth gravity.

“I use these walks to help clear my mind.  The physical motion requires both sides of my brain and allows the various synthetic parts to do some house cleaning.  I find the faster I walk the better it works.”  Nick said as Hamagami recovered.

“So where are you headed?” Roger asked.

“Mars, of course.”

“We’re all headed to Mars, but are you going on any place after?”

“I have an appointment at the University of Jupiter.”

“Professor, eh?”  I could feel the clutter in my mind.

“Yes, of Literature.”

“Jesus, why’er ya going all that way to teach something you could you do just as well from… well, wherever your from?”

“Philadelphia.  My wife is a travel writer.”

“So she-”  Shouting from the common room cut him short.

“Come on.” Nick grunted and ran off down the corridor.

It was all over by the time they arrived.  A crowd formed a loose circle around the two men.  One, stringy and unshaven, sat finishing his breakfast.  The other lay beside the table, chinless beneath his rolls of fat, with a knife in his neck.  Nick pushed through the ringed crowd and checked the fallen man’s pulse.  He was dead.

“It looked as though he knew what he was doing with a knife.”  Nick said.

“Not over breakfast, dear.”

“I won’t go into the grizzly details-”

“Thank heavens for that.”

“It’s just the knife pierced the windpipe and, as best I could tell, split the gap between two of his cervical vertebrae and severed his spinal cord.”

“That’s sparing me the details?”  He kept quiet, and they finished breakfast in our room.  Nick had brought breakfast to her.  She thought it romantic.  He was just being practical.

Io hated to see blood before breakfast.

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About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...

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