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Murder on the Mars Express: Chapter 9

Chapter 9:

An Invitation

“Begin recording.  Notes for a lecture.

“Why do we love?  Is it the chemical equivalent of fate?  We are after all walking chemical factories.  Proteins, amino acids, serotonin and a thousand others… our bodies are practically awash in compounds that are in constant combat to balance and maintain the machine.

“Poets describe passion often as a kind of blindness, a madness even.  Just look at the religious passion of true believers.

“I wonder if the urge to kill is the same.

“End recording”

“An invitation?” Nick asked looking up from a copy of Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, The Book of the City of Ladies.

“Yes, the captain has invited us to dine with him,” Io was practically giddy.  I’d have to check air recycler in our berth, Nick thought.

“I wonder what he wants.”

“Oh, don’t be that way.”


“I can already hear the gears grinding away.  You’re thinking about all of his ulterior motives and analyzing the situation logically.”


“Pfft!” She stuck her tongue out at him.

“And you’re thinking about what to wear.”

“Well, there it is.”  The captain stared at Nick and Io blinking impotently.  Nick couldn’t recall his surname.  The heuristic governing the linkage between his higher brain functions and the Samsung data dump seemed to have a glitch.  Odds were that’d be an expensive fix, Nick had mused when he first noticed the fault.  After a while Nick liked not remembering names.  If they were important enough to remember, he’d remember.

“Are you out of your mind?” Nick felt like he was the only sane person in the room.  He stood mouth agape.

“So what should we do?”  The captain put his head in his hands.

“Do?  This is a security matter.  Not our concern.”  Nick began pacing.

“The way you described their security officer,” Io tapped her glass with a fingernail, “the killer is apt to evade capture.”

“Yes, I would wager on the killer.”

“I’d rather wager on us.”  Io cocked her head and smiled mischievously.

“So a travel writer and a professor of literature are, what?  A Watson and Holmes of the new mold?  Preposterous.  Io, my dear, have you a Webley stuffed under your jumper?  Oh, and where do I sign up for my seven percent solution?  If you please!”

“They need our help.”

“They need help.  That I’ll grant you.  What makes you so certain we can be of any help?”

The captain looked up.  “I have two murders.  One is solved, but the trial-”

“That was no trial,”  Nick said pointedly.  The captain slowly stood.

“The ruling of the tribunal does not sit well with the passengers.  So I’ve got a group of passengers that wants their man freed.  Another group that’d love to chuck him out the nearest airlock.  And a crew that’s already itching for shore leave.”  He stepped toward Nick.  “I’m not really a captain.  Not in the way that you might think.  I’m a technician.  I make sure the systems run smoothly.  Mostly it’s like being an engineer on a habitat.  All the astrogation and trim adjustments are calculated and executed by the company computer which isn’t even on this rock.  It’s in Tokyo!”

“Surely there are contingency plans.”

“For fire, for loss of atmosphere, water recycling failure, even for riots.  But not for murder.  Not like this.”


About Rob Sterner

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


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