EXCERPT FROM THE BODY IN THE ZERO GEE BROTHEL
COPYRIGHT © CAMERON COOPER 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
A stranger was sitting behind Ninety-Eight’s desk when I strolled into the station on the morning of my 25,000th day on Abbatangelo. He was a nervous fellow with fine brown hair, big eyes and long fingers. I should have taken his appearance as a portent, but I just flat didn’t care.
The nervous one gulped when he saw me. “Mr. Lane. Sir. I mean…do I call you Sherriff?”
“Not if you want me to answer.” I was tempted to brush by but said, instead, “Who are you?”
“I…um…Hyland. Emily didn’t tell you?”
All I wanted was to get to my desk and check messages, so I could call the day done and go home. A quart of Martian brandy, a gift from a client, was calling my name. Instead of that, I swore and studied Nervous. “She quit on me?”
“She didn’t tell you…” He picked at the controls on the smart desk. The film on the top was coming loose, which meant the desk wasn’t as smart as it should be.
“That was the deal,” I said. “She can quit whenever she wants, as long as she finds and trains a replacement. That’s the deal with you, as well. Got it?”
“You’ve said that more than once before, haven’t you?” Then he pressed his fingers to his lips as if he was more shocked than me by what he had said.
“Okay, listen, Ninety-Nine, we’ll get along much better if—” I didn’t get to finish, because his smart desk lit up.
He stared at it. I didn’t think it was possible for his eyes to get bigger, but they did.
“That’s your cue,” I told him.
He prodded experimentally.
I reached over and tapped the connect button. The holograph formed over the top. I knew the man’s face. His nose demanding remembering.
Ninety-Nine managed to stutter, “Ptolemy Lane’s office.”
The face frowned. “Lemme speak to Lane.”
Ninety-Nine could see me through the hologram, so I shook my head.
“Mr. Lane says he’s not here.”
I sighed. Reached through the head to spin the display to face me. “I’m here. Who are you?”
“Kumar. I’m the manager at the Desiderata—”
He caught back his breath. “You don’t know what I was going to say.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re a casino and brothel. That’s out of my service area.”
“You have a service area?” He sounded puzzled rather than offended. “I thought you covered all of Georgina’s Town?”
“Except the casino and brothel. I told Guisy Oakmint so when he said he was going into business. I’m just one man and your joint is a crime magnet. Oakmint knows to clean up his own messes.” And for eleven years, he had.
Kumar shook his head. “That’s just it. It’s Mr. Oakmint. He’s dead.”
I paused. Took in a breath or two. I knew Guisy enough to share a drink here and there, although the last serious conversation we’d had was when he told me about his new joint venture. “Sorry, kid,” I told the manager. “But it’s still not my concern. Call in Doc Lowry. He deals with bodies.”
“Doc Lowry said you would be interested,” Kumar said quickly, as I reached for the kill switch.
I pulled back my hand. “Doc said that? Why?”
Kumar glanced over his shoulder, then said, “Mr. Oakmint was murdered and we’re pretty sure an undocumented human did it.”
I rubbed the back of my neck to hide my reaction as something fizzed and flared in my gut. “I’ll be there in fifteen,” I told Kumar.
I had to calm Ninety-Nine down before I left. He was jumping out of his skin.
“I waited five years for a license to move here,” he wailed. “My first week and there’s a murder!”
“Crime happens, kid,” I told him. “That’s why I have a job.” I didn’t say anything else, but I did wonder what the hell he had been thinking, taking up work with the town’s only law enforcement authority.
“They said you keep the peace,” Ninety-Nine muttered.
“I do. This is me keeping it.” I put on my coat and took the five-minute walk along Main Street to the casino at the edge of the town limits.
Said that way, it makes Georgina’s Town sound small, but it only looks small on flat schematics. I was at street level where actual sunlight filtered through the dome far overhead, but there was another ten levels beneath my feet. And a building on the central section of Main Street that didn’t reach up at least twenty floors didn’t exist.
Things were crammed under the dome because nearly thirty thousand people squeezed in here, with twice more begging for permission to reside. Mayor Carpos didn’t charge taxes. He didn’t need to. Resident tickets brought in all the revenue the town needed, and their price rose every season.
I looked balefully up at the blue sun as I moved along Main Street. The sunlight flickered and glinted as personal pods zipped across the dome. Most of my work took place at night, when idiots thought they could get away with whatever they were up to. It wasn’t just the Martian brandy I was missing right then. I badly needed sleep. I’d been patrolling most of the night and I’d only stopped at the office to check messages because I was passing it. Now I wish I’d gone straight home, polarized the windows and passed out as I had wanted to.
The Desiderata was the shortest building on Main Street, only because the dome itself limited vertical expansion. On Earth, the outskirts of town were the undesirable areas. Here in Georgina’s Town, the outskirts were the expensive lots, because they had unique views of the land beyond the dome. I suppose it was a view worth paying for, if you liked frozen tundra. I liked the view from my mid-dome windows just fine.
I moved up the steps and through the door into the main casino. It was like stepping into a different world, one that always brought me to a halt when I did walk through those doors. There was no hint, outside, of the exotic environment in here. Oakmint had arranged it deliberately, I think, to avoid ruffling the hides of Georgina’s Town residents.
We liked our peace. Everyone with a legitimate license to live here had paid well for the privilege and waited patiently to be given the okay to even apply for residency. Then came screenings and interviews and the final exchange of money.
As Georgina’s Town was a domed city and the lock to enter it was tightly controlled, you only got in here if you had a temporary visa or a residence’s license. And the residences didn’t want neon razzle and flash from casinos and their standard customers ruining the peace of their town.
Kumar had told me to meet him at the main bar, so I re-hinged my jaw and moved across the plush flooring, heading for the wider corridor between all the tables. It was frantically busy here despite the morning hour, and everyone wore evening attire—or was still wearing it from last night. Lots of glitter and flesh on display, which I ignored.
The aliens were harder to ignore. The emre were easy to pick out because they stood thirty centimeters taller than humans on average, and they had no visible body hair. They were bi-pedal, with heads on top of upright figures, but their skin was more hide-like in consistency, with blue highlights over the bald dome and eyes, and orange-red everywhere else. Their lips were blue, but the skin around the thick, very wide mouth faded from orange to a pale yellow.
A ridge ran from under their eye, around the back of their head, to stop under their other eye. There was no equivalent to a nose. Scientists had guessed that they breathed through their mouths, but no one had ever confirmed that.
No one knew what an emra wore on their home planet, because in their usual obsequious way, emre instantly adopted the habits and customs of those around them, to avoid offense. They wore human clothes, which fit, more or less. They were not a gendered species and I hadn’t figured out how they decided to wear men’s or women’s clothes. Maybe they switched up, depending on the season. I didn’t know any emre well enough to ask.
I likely never would, either. I didn’t much like them. Their fawning lack of spine irritated me. Still, they had managed to infiltrate the fringes deep enough to reach Abbatangelo, and they behaved themselves while they were here.
Some in the fringes argued we owed the emre. The emre had warned humans about the Vind. I was still trying to decide if the emre had done us any favors on that one. We’d managed to stay out of the emre-Vind war, which had raged for a thousand years, but I wasn’t sure the cost was worth it.
It was too early in the morning to think about a far distant war, even though I knew exactly why my thoughts had roamed there, and it wasn’t just the sight of the emre at the tables, jumping about and clicking loudly in their native tongue when they got too excited to use Standard. I stepped around and between gamblers, feeling dusty and down-dressed in my black coat, which served me well out on the streets.
I moved over to the bar. An extra-long emra was passed out, their head in a puddle of green liquid. I hoped it was booze and nothing else. I moved up a seat or two away from them and said to the barman’s back. “Looking for Kum—never mind,” I finished as the barman turned toward me. “You said you were the manager,” I added as the man I’d spoken to seventeen minutes ago came over to where I was standing.
“I am,” Kumar said. “I also tend bar when its needed. I’ve got a hysterical barman breathing oxygen out the back. Everyone liked Mr. Oakmint.”
I looked around the casino floor, at the intense expressions of concentration, the glum losers, the few winners. “Clearly.”
“The staff liked him,” Kumar amended.
“Yeah-huh. Where’s the body?”
Kumar blinked. “Well…”
“You haven’t moved it?” I said sharply.
“Doc Lowry said not to, only…”
I frowned, anticipating some objection to the body interfering with business. This was another reason I had refused to service Oakmint’s place. The heavy emphasis on business above all else didn’t sit well with me, even though I had no objections to money, per se. But dealing with the casino folk—both the paying suckers and the threadbare staff—always left me longing for a hint of human empathy.
“It’s moving by itself, see,” Kumar said.
I stared at him, puzzlement warring with impatience.
“You’d better come with me,” Kumar added.
Meet Ptolemy Jovan Lane, a unique peacemaker.
Laws are hard to hold, out in the fringes of known space, but Ptolemy Lane is charged with maintaining peace under the dome of Georgina’s Town, among humans, the docile emre and more.
When a body is discovered in a zero gee suite in the local casino’s brothel wing, Lane is reluctant to get involved. The casino is off limits to his style of law keeping. Only, the body is the casino’s owner, Guisy Oakmint, and Doc Lowry is insisting Lane investigate. Lane soon learns why…
“The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel” is the first Ptolemy Lane story in the science fiction series by award-winning SF author Cameron Cooper.
The Ptolemy Lane Tales:
1.0: The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel
2.0: The Captain Who Broke the Rules
…and more to come!
Space Opera Science Fiction Novelette
The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel is book 1 of the new Ptolemy Lane Tales series, which (as you can probably tell from the excerpt) has a fun old-style-pulp tinge.
It is now available at all retailers, and as usual, if you pre-order directly from me at Stories Rule Press, you get your copy of the story a week earlier than everyone else. That is, next week.