2.5 oz gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
Dash orange bitters
Lemon twist or olive
Stir ingredients over ice for 40 seconds. Drain. Garnish with lemon twist or olive.
Kneeling on the floor of their suite, Tesla Crane could just feel the vibrations of the centrifugal ring as it rotated around the interplanetary cruise ship Lindgren. Or more likely it was the hum of the air conditioning. The Terran-level ring was big enough that even the Coriolis effect was really only noticeable when throwing things.
“Gimlet, fetch.” She threw a chew toy for her Westie, and the little dog charged in the direction the plush sloth had started to go.
It curved in the air, leaving the small white dog staring in baffled confusion for a moment before she found it and pounced with enormous ferocity.
Tesla used the reprieve to return to stretching. She put her hands on the floor, and her new wedding ring caught her eye with the gleam of platinum-iridium—just like the historic kilogram standard, because her spouse knew she was a nerd. Smiling, she lowered her back into the cow position, feeling for twinges as she raised her head.
The ceiling had a digital sky shading to an Earth sunset. The simulated clouds changed shape and position in subtle response to an artificial wind. Not bad for a honeymoon.
On the couch, her joyfrie—fianc—spouse watched her over the edge of his embroidery hoop. Shal was compact, with warm brown skin beneath distressingly glossy curls. “What are you smiling at?”
“You.” Tesla lowered her head, arching her back as far as she could into cat position. As soon as her head was in reach, she got a faceful of little white dog. Wiggling with delight, the Westie planted tiny dog kisses along Tesla’s cheek. Laughing, she tried to dodge. “Gimlet! Not helping.”
Gimlet disagreed and swiped her tongue across Tesla’s nose.
From the couch, Shal lowered the blackwork he was stitching into the sleeve of a T-shirt. He patted the cushion beside him. “Gimlet, c’mere.”
Her dog abandoned Tesla and took a running leap onto the couch. She flopped with her nose on Shal’s embroidery hoop and stared up at him with adoration.
“I’m going to need that hoop back, little girl.”
She sighed and pushed closer, stumpy tail wagging.
“What’s that?” He scratched her ears, grinning. “Yes, Gimlet, I completely agree. We should stay in tonight.”
“But karaoke is tonight.” Tesla returned to cow position, feeling for anything out of alignment.
Or, rather, feeling for anything unacceptably out of alignment. Her spine had its own set of rules about what “normal” looked like. She had her Deep Brain Pain Suppressor dialed all the way down because doing her exercises with the DBPS on was an invitation for more pain later.
“And last night was the Orbit Transfer Party.” Shal was trying to ease the embroidery hoop out from under Gimlet, but she seemed to generate her own tiny canine gravity field sometimes. She wouldn’t hurt the embroidery, but when she was off-duty she was still a Westie. As they’d said at the training center, “She’s a dog, not a robot.”
“Be fair, watching the Moon recede was not a bad view. Although the sparkling was questionable…”
“Questionable is being kind.” He lifted Gimlet’s paw only to have her roll over onto her back. “Hey. Kid. C’mon.”
“Gimlet, leave it.”
Presented with a formal command from Tesla, Gimlet reacted with her service-dog training and pushed back from the embroidery hoop, but she still stared at Shal as if he existed solely to pet her. Which, to be fair, she did with everyone she met and not only Tesla’s joyfrien—fianc—spouse. Five days into their honeymoon, and it still didn’t seem real.
“Thanks.” He picked up the embroidery hoop and ran a finger over it looking for damage. “I’m just … Never mind.”
“What?” She reversed course, slowly edging back into cat position, or as much of it as she could manage with the rods in her spine. “I know that form of ‘never mind.’”
“All right…” He took his time tying off a knot and snipped it with the pair of scissors she’d given him as a wedding present. The badgers worked into the handles seemed to chase each other as the light played across the hand-forged metal. He set them down and lowered the hoop. “I’m not complaining, mind you, it’s only that between the transfer to Low Lunar Orbit, and then to the ship, and then … Point is, I thought, maybe, being on a honeymoon, that maybe we could get some alone time in.”
Tesla wrestled with the five different responses she wanted to make. On the one hand, sexy fun times with her new spouse were always appealing. On the other, she so rarely got to escape celebrity and just be a person.
When Shal had suggested a cruise to Mars for their honeymoon, she had been, at best, dubious. His reasoning was that most passengers would access only the ship’s local onboard network, since comms back to terrestrial or Martian databases were hellishly expensive. That meant he could pay the cruise line to reroute ID requests to a fake identity. Her beloved had been right. No one had recognized her yet as the heir to the Crane fortune. So staying in had its appeal, but going out was a limited-time offer. When they got to Mars, these tricks wouldn’t work.
But this was also Shal asking. She bent back to cow position. “Sure. If you want to. We can stay in.”
He sighed, with an edge of tension. “It’s all right. We’ll go.”
Tesla stopped stretching and looked at him. “I just agreed to stay in.”
“Yes. And that was your ‘I’m humoring you to do a thing I don’t want to do’ voice.” He ruffled Gimlet’s fur, not looking at Tesla.
Tesla lifted her head. “First of all, I don’t mind staying in. Honest. It’s just the … the novelty of being able to go someplace without bodyguards and planning and … But it’s not like staying in with my shiny new spouse is a hardship.”
“Hardship? I should hope I’m a hardship.” He grinned and waggled his brows suggestively.
She snorted and went back to stretching. “Nerd.”
“Accurate.” He pulled a skein of embroidery floss out of his craft bag. “Also, when you put it like that, I can get behind the novelty of going on a date with my shiny new spouse without anyone hovering. So let’s go out on the town.”
“And then come back for sexy fun times.” She pushed back to her knees and grabbed the arm of a chair to brace with as she rose to her feet.
He got the goofy sideways grin that sometimes crossed his face and always made her immediately want to take his pants off. “Ready for karaoke, Gimlet?”
“Oh. I don’t want to take her.”
“Really?” Shal raised his eyebrows. “And I don’t ask just because we get better seats when she’s with us. Your assistant usually scouts new places for triggers…”
“It’s karaoke.” When she got Gimlet, her therapist told her that her independence would increase because the dog was a tool—medical equipment wrapped in an adorable fuzzy package. But how was Tesla supposed to know if she was getting better if she didn’t take a chance occasionally? She crossed the room to Shal and gently pushed the hoop out of the way. Putting one knee on the couch by his thigh, she carefully lowered herself to straddle him. The twinge along the right side of her spine was acceptable. She smiled and leaned down to kiss him. “No one’s recognized me yet.”
Shal’s lips were warm and soft as he answered her. One hand ran down her back, providing stability without being obvious about it. She traced the line of his collarbone, feeling his heartbeat through her palm. Shal’s voice had roughened. “Please tell me you picked a short song.”
“Mm…” She nibbled his earlobe to keep him from fretting about the potential for flashback triggers. It was karaoke. On an interplanetary cruise ship, for crying out loud. It wasn’t like they would have pyro there. Breathing into his ear, she said, “Maybe you want to do a duet…?”
“A duet, you say—”
Gimlet suddenly burst into a rolling series of DELIVERY IS GOING TO KILL US ALL barks a moment before a knock on the door finished breaking the mood. Her trainer would not be happy that Gimlet barked like this, but Tesla very, very much appreciated the deterrent that a yappy little dog could be at the door. Better than any intruder alarm. Shal sighed and helped Tesla stand up.
He gave her one more lingering kiss before looking at the door, where the Westie was protecting them from Evil Incarnate. “I’ll get it.”
Tesla had let him cross the room to the door before remembering that, with Shal’s bots, she could have answered it and not had to worry about paparazzi. The deep plum wig and eyebrow reshaping she sported were enough to throw the human eye off.
“Gimlet, come!” Tesla headed into the bedroom to distract the little dog.
Gimlet scurried into the room after her, still huffing with indignation that someone had knocked on the door. In the other room, Shal’s voice rose and fell in an indistinct conversation with whoever the villain was. Tesla smiled at her dog. “Door knockers. How dare.”
The Westie snorted in agreement.
“You showed them. We are so safe now.” Tesla sent Shal a ping to his Heads-Up Display. ::Who is it?::
A moment later her own HUD flashed a message in her lower-left field of vision. ::Room-service drone. Wrong room. ::
Tesla rummaged through the jewelry she’d dropped on the bedroom vanity and picked out a diamond anklet. It was rather old-fashioned and not worth much, but she liked the way it sparkled.
Sitting on the bed, she tried to cross her leg over her knee so she could reach her ankle. Even pulling on her foot, she couldn’t quite get the heel to make contact. A band at the top of her pelvis tightened as she tried.
“I couldn’t get it to leave without accepting the delivery or trashing the order.” Shal walked into the room carrying a tray covered with a silver dome. “I didn’t want it to go to waste. Steak à la Lune.”
“Aha! I see your facade of virtue is beginning to crumble.” She wrinkled her nose, trying to get the anklet in place.
“First of all, lunar steaks are arguably vegetarian, since they’re entirely vat-grown. Second, Gimlet likes steak.”
Her dog sat under the tray, looking at it as if she had met her truest love. Tesla laughed. “Gimlet doesn’t get people food.”
“Fair. But my third point…” He whipped the lid off with a flourish. “It comes with frites à la truffe.”
The scent of fried starch and salt and the earthy joy of truffles wafted from a mound of fries.
Grinning, he set the tray on the side table and grabbed a fry. Slowly, he placed the fry in his mouth, closing his full lips around the crisp brown morsel. He winked, and his gaze traveled down the length of her leg to the anklet. He did not offer to help, and she loved him all over again for letting her fight her own battles. “So, what song did you pick out?”
“Don’t you want to be surprised?” She winked at him. “Or use your superior detecting skills to guess?”
“Retired.” He waved a fry at her. “But given what you sing in the shower, I’m betting it’ll be either a Mad Guinevere or something by HLX-1.”
“Mm…” Neither were bad guesses. She grimaced trying to catch hold of the bottom of the anklet and finally gave up. She could use the DBPS or she could accept help from her helpmate. Sighing, she held out the anklet. “Would you mind?”
“It would be my pleasure.” Shal knelt on one knee and patted the other.
Tesla rested her foot on his knee as he took the anklet from her. It took him seconds to fasten the gold-and-diamond band. Still kneeling, he ran his hands up her calf, making a circle at the back of her knee. Wetting his lips, Shal looked up at her. “I’m going to make one more pitch for taking Gimlet and then I’ll drop it.”
“I know what you’re going to say.” She rested her hands on the bed and pressed down. “Okay, yes, you’re right. There’s a risk that there will be pyro or some other trigger and I might have a flashback. But if we take Gimlet, people are going to watch us. I … I just want one evening where no one stares at me.”
Shal smiled at her and bent forward to kiss her knee. “All right then.”
“That’s it? No fight?” Tesla pouted at him. “And here I was looking forward to makeup sex.”
He laughed and beat his chest. “Spouse! You must do as I say, for now we are married and you have no independent mind of your own! Grr!”
Gimlet barked at him.
Laughing, Tesla lowered her foot and leaned forward to kiss Shal on the forehead. “See? We can’t take her. She’d eat you alive.”
* * *
There was something magical about being anonymous. Listening to enthusiastic karaoke, Tesla sat nestled in a booth at the back of the R-Bar and scanned for their server. Spotting the distinctive long blue locs, Tesla raised her hand in the universal “I’m ready to order” signal and watched their server continue walking past without looking at her. Again. Anonymity would be marvelous, aside from the fact that she wanted a drink.
On her heads-up display, a message from her spouse pinged for attention:::You’re going to laugh, but I forgot that your hair was purple. ::
She subvocalized a reply to send via the HUD. ::Did you lose our booth?::
Shal had given up on the server before she had and taken another approach. ::Absolutely not. I’m at the bar—where apparently we are already considered regulars::
::And it’s just day two of the cruise. :: She almost opened the calendar in her HUD, but she was on vacation. The urge to check in with the office still itched under her skin, so she pulled Shal’s embroidery hoop over and consulted the pattern in her HUD. ::Well done, us. ::
::The bartender sends her compliments on your hair::
::Which you had forgotten::
::And I want you to appreciate the deep and endearing vulnerability that I’m displaying by admitting my shocking mental lapse. ::
Sitting alone in her booth, Tesla laughed, ignored by those around her. Out of habit, she’d picked a table in one of the round booths at the rear of the lounge as a way to have her back to a wall and a buffer between her and the world. She kept looking for Gimlet under the table, skin tightening for a moment every time the little dog wasn’t there, before she remembered that she’d done this on purpose. Thanks to Shal’s bots, she didn’t need to hide behind sunglasses or a courtesy mask; she would have been able to sit anywhere here. All of the cameras and attention were turned to the stage, where a crooner was belting out their karaoke selection with more enthusiasm than talent.
There was still an infectious joy in watching the curvy older passenger, with chartreuse pants around generous hips in the style from their teens, sing a song Tesla had never heard before. Everyone watched the stage. No one was taking a surreptitious snap of her laughter to sell to a gossip column.
Shal sent,::I heard that::
::I’m across the bar!::
::There is never a day when I won’t recognize the sound of your voice in a crowd. Although … I AM used to trying to spot you behind a cluster of admirers—Oh. Got the drinks. En route to you. ::
She slid to the edge of the booth to get a better view of the stage. No one “randomly” dropped by the booth wanting her to invest in their start-up or talk about one of her robot designs or magnify her tiny flaws. She was free to try karaoke and have no one care if she failed.
And then her internal radar lit up, needing no online tracker to orient to Shalmaneser Steward.
Or to use his pseudonym for this trip, Mishal Husband. By any name, her spouse.
Tesla crossed her legs, and the diamond anklet she wore glittered in the light as it emerged from the booth.
That sparkle caught Shal’s attention as he walked back to their table with a pair of cocktails. His eyes dropped to her ankle, and then traveled appreciatively up the length of her legs, warming her through the core as his gaze continued up and met hers.
His sharp features softened as he slid into the booth next to her. “We could go back to our cabin…”
Tesla leaned over, ignoring the twinge in her lower back, and kissed him on the cheek. “Don’t be silly. My turn is nearly here, and we’ve waited this long.”
“I could’ve talked to the karaoke DJ.” Shal held out her Manhattan, with a real cherry mind you, and winked at her. She nearly changed her mind about waiting for the karaoke.
“I believe you mean ‘bribed.’” She lifted the Manhattan out of his hand. Detectives. They never really broke their habits. “What are you drinking?”
“A bribe is a conversation.” Shal glanced past her and waved away the close-up magician who had been following them around the ship after Tesla had overtipped him. “Martini. Stirred. New Prussian gin. Dolin Blanc for the vermouth. Two olives.”
Tesla rested her hand on his thigh, grateful beyond words for the bubble of safety he enforced around them. “Two olives? I like that you’re developing expensive tastes.”
“To go with my expensive spouse?” Shal laughed and leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. “Oh! I’ve just realized that we could shorten ‘Mishal’ to ‘Mi’ instead of ‘Shal’ on the cruise.”
“I thought the point of a pseudonym that could shorten to Shal was to make it less likely for me to slip on the name?” That was why they’d settled on “Mishal Husband” as his name for the cruise.
“Sure.” He grinned at her. “But this way you can introduce me to people as ‘Mi Husband.’”
“My Husband? Really?” She laughed. “You are such an archaic ner—”
“Not what we agreed!” From the booth next to them, a sharp voice cut through a gap in the song.
A balding white passenger with a gamer’s belly rounding out a sequined pullover and matching capelet stood facing the close-up magician at the end of the booth’s table.
Shal cocked his head to the side, watching. Whenever he concentrated, he got sleuthing face, which had this bright intensity to it, as if he were wringing meaning out of the air.
Tesla slid her hand up his thigh. ::Are you eavesdropping?::
The corner of his mouth twisted in a smile. ::Absolutely. ::
The magician shrugged. His reply vanished into the music so that only the rhythms of speech said he was annoyed. The bald passenger jabbed a finger at the magician, who took a step back, arms going wide. A moment later, he plucked a card from the air and showed it to the passenger.
Something about it made the passenger’s face burn beet red.
::What do you think they’re arguing about?::
::Dunno, but none of them know each other well enough to move the conversation to pings. :: Shal set his hand on top of hers and ran a finger across the new wedding band.
::None?:: Tesla could only see two people from where she sat. ::Who else—::
“Both of you.” A third voice, in the husky alto range, interjected from deep in the booth. “We’ve all—”
Applause buried whatever they had all done as the crooner took a deep bow. A moment later, the karaoke host bounded onstage, all grins. “Let’s give a big round of applause again to Annie Smith and that fascinating rendition of ‘Who’s Laughing Now.’ Next up, Artesia Zuraw!”
Shal nudged her and slid to the end of the booth. “That’s you.”
“Oh! Right.” She had not recognized her own pseudonym. Tesla slipped out, twisting to stand, and her back spasmed. Her deep brain pain suppressor compensated automatically, slamming into its built-in safeties so the red cords of pain were present but muted.
She steadied herself on the edge of the table and used the motion to look into the booth next to theirs. At the back of the booth, an elegant passenger with bleach-blond hair and a soft, curving jawline watched the other two with obvious distaste.
“Artesia Zuraw? Are you here?”
Tesla raised her hand. “Coming!”
She reached for Gimlet’s leash—but she hadn’t brought her dog. This was fine. She could do this. Tesla hurried up to the stage, regretting the decision to leave her cane behind as her back tightened with each step. Dammit. She knew better than to twist when she was standing. She had to clutch the rail to manage the stairs.
The KJ met her with a blinding smile and a microphone. “Hello, my happy one! We are so delighted to have you on our stage! And what are you singing for us, Mx. Zuraw?”
She took the offered microphone, nerves overriding any pain. “Tess. Call me Tess, she/her…” She wasn’t used to feeling nervous. “I’m singing ‘Somewhere to Love’ by the Isolationists.”
“All right, everybody! Give it up for her and make her feel the love in this room!” The KJ bounced offstage as the first syncopated beats of the jaunty swingpunk tune started.
Tesla watched the lyrics pop up on her HUD as the glowing ball slid closer to the first line. Everyone was watching her and cheering with the same enthusiasm they’d shown her predecessor on the stage.
I know this place around here—”
A tray of glasses shattered at the back of the room. At the booth next to theirs, the blond who’d been sitting in its depths was on their feet. Shal stood by them, with a hand out as if to prevent a fall. A swath of red stained their white dinner jacket.
For a moment, Tesla thought that they’d been stabbed, but their gaze was fixed on the server with long blue locs. Shattered glassware covered the floor around the pair. The stain was just red wine or an aperitif. As she watched, the garment self-cleaned, shedding the red liquid so the fabric bleached back to brilliant white. Tugging the jacket into place, the blonde stalked out of the R-Bar.
Everyone watched them go. Which was good, because Tesla had totally lost her place in the song. Being anonymous was very, very nice.
1.5 oz bourbon
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz Campari
Stir ingredients over ice for 40 seconds, drain. Garnish with twist of orange peel and a cherry.
The doors to the exclusive Yacht Club portion of the ship hissed open on the concierge lounge. Shal waggled his finger at her, his craft bag bouncing with the motion. “I object to being called biased. You’re wounding my professional pride.”
“First of all, you’re retired. Second, being a detective has nothing to do with karaoke. Third, you’re biased by definition. You’re married to me.”
“Pish! Tosh! Tut-tut!” He made outrageous hemming and hawing noises. “Your Honor, I would note that you are the only person who got an encore.”
She laughed in his face. “That was not an encore. I was interrupted and they let me start again.”
Behind the concierge desk, Auberi leaped to their feet, tailcoat flapping behind them, with an alertness that gave no indicator of it being two a.m. ship’s time. Their aubergine surfer’s forelock arced over their left brow like a wave. “Mx. Zuraw! Mx. Husband! Oh, pardon for this.” They gestured behind themself to the concierge office and the cadence of their Lunar French accent intensified with distress. “I have here your petite dog.”
Tesla went to instant alert. “Is she okay?”
“Oui! Yes! Oh, yes, she is well, but she has in some sort of way escaped of your stateroom. I have found her here in the lobby.”
Shal squeezed Tesla’s arm. “I’ll go clear the room.” He hesitated and handed her the craft bag. “Would you mind?”
“It’s not a … No problem.” She took the bag, because she couldn’t honestly say that the opened door wasn’t a problem. She’d had stalkers get into her hotel rooms before. Even traveling incognito, even traveling in the most expensive, most exclusive part of the ship, someone could still get in if they bribed the right person. “Thank you!”
She flashed a smile at her spouse’s back as he walked down the ridiculous “Golden Promenade” to the hall where their stateroom was. Encased in an amber resin floor, yellow LEDs sparkled on embedded crystals that looked like discards from a New Vegas chandelier. It was the sort of thing one did to impress new money.
Sighing, Tesla crossed the lobby to Auberi’s desk. “I hope Gimlet wasn’t a bother.”
“Not at all! I used the matter printer to make a leash for her safety. She is very loved.” Pirouetting, they rushed to the office door and opened it. “Oh!”
A little bark was all the warning that Tesla got, and then her dog burst out of the office and around the corner, trailing a leash. The Westie’s entire back end was wagging as she ran.
Gimlet jumped onto her hind feet, stretching her forelegs up onto Tesla’s thighs. Everything from the wideness of her eyes to the frantic half-twists spoke of anxiety.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got her.” Crouching with a straight back, Tesla gathered her little white dog in her arms. “Oh, sweetness. Hello. Hello, Gimlet. Yes, yes…” The wiggles and kisses from the little dog made Tesla regret leaving her. Gimlet was trained to go everywhere with Tesla. Being left behind probably made her feel like she’d done something wrong. She eased Gimlet to the ground, rubbing her ears with both hands. “Hello, perfect girl. Mommy is very stupid. It’s not your fault.”
“This must be an error with our housekeeping staff.” Auberi had reappeared at the desk in their usual spot. “I will—”
It wasn’t Shal, but it came from the Golden Promenade. “Call for help.” Tesla tightened her grip on Gimlet’s leash. “Gimlet, heel.”
With her dog at her side, Tesla ran toward the Golden Promenade, nearly stumbling to her knees as her back sent a line of white down her right leg. Gimlet got in front of her and put a paw on her calf, signaling her to stop and take a moment. She couldn’t. Not until she knew Shal was safe.
“Gimlet, release.” Hitting the override on her DBPS to push it past the safeties, Tesla shoved off the wall. “Gimlet, heel.” The DBPS gave its standard caution about numbness and other possible side effects of overuse. She had long practice at ignoring that warning.
Overhead, the shipboard speakers said, “Delta, gamma, five-five-niner. Repeat. Delta, gamma, five-five-niner.”
Beneath her feet, the Golden Promenade jogged to obscure the curve of the ship and she braced herself on the wall as she rounded the corner. The sparkle floor gave way to carpet and a subdued hall lined with weird cruise art. At the end, it turned to her left again and she entered the tree-lined hall of the Grand Royal Suites.
And halfway down the hall, Shal was lowering someone to the floor.
A red shock of blood coated the front of their white dinner jacket. Even at this distance, the difference between blood and red wine was painfully clear.
Shal looked up as Tesla knelt next to him. “Stay with them. I saw someone.”
It was the blonde from the karaoke bar. A knife stuck out of their chest, buried up to its wooden hilt.
As Shal bounded to his feet, she didn’t have time to ask him who he saw and her focus needed to be on the passenger. He shoved the service door open and she sent::Be careful!:: after him, knowing he would ignore it.
“Gimlet, down. Gimlet, stay.” What little she remembered from Child Guides told her that taking the knife out would make the bleeding worse. She couldn’t tell the passenger that everything would be okay, so she settled for narrating everything she was doing as a way of trying to be reassuring. “Hey, so I’m going to try to stop the bleeding, okay?”
Tesla dumped the contents of Shal’s craft bag on the floor. The bag had a hydrophobic self-cleaning overlay, and theoretically, she hoped it would be impermeable to blood too. She wrapped the blue linen around the wound, trying not to jostle the knife. As she did, her skin brushed the passenger’s and at the intimate contact, their online systems did a handshake, offering identification, which she accepted in exchange for her fake ID. ::George Saikawa, she/her::
Saikawa’s eyes were rolling in her head. Her mouth gaped like a fish.
Tesla grimaced and leaned down to Saikawa. “Hey? George? George, look at me. Look at—good. Terrible way to meet, but I’ll be right here with you until the medics come. Hey—hey, look at me. Come on … help is on the way.”
Doors up and down the hall opened. In her peripheral vision, Tesla felt people step out into the hall and heard the gawking begin. Blood seeped through the field of flowers on the embroidery bag. It stuck to Tesla’s hands and trickled between her fingers. Tesla lifted her head, scanning the wealthy fools who clotted the hall for someone helpful. Some people were staring at her, some at the person lying on the floor, and one person was making eyes at Gimlet.
“Jesus, people. Someone get a towel or something.” She looked back down to the stabbing victim, whose eyes had closed. “No, no, no … Hey, don’t you dare die. I will not allow that.”
“Coming through!” A service entrance two doors down slammed open and a medical crew burst out, masked and gloved, carrying a full kit and a megamover.
Tesla looked up and shouted, “Over here!”
The one in the lead spotted Tesla—or more accurately the blood—and dropped to their knees next to her. “What happened?”
“I didn’t see it—just that she’d been stabbed. That was all I had.”
“Candy, prep an X-14 protocol.” The doctor peeled the bag away with bright-blue gloves and discarded it in a biohazard bag, while their colleague positioned the orange medkit over the knife wound. “Friend or family?”
“Bystander. Never met.”
“Good job—” They did a double take at Gimlet. “What’s a dog doing here?”
“She’s my service dog.” Tesla wanted to rest her hand on Gimlet’s back, but her hands were sticky with blood.
The doctor grunted, and it was hard to read their expression behind the mask. As the orange medkit extended a spider’s worth of probes, they produced a pair of shears and sliced the tuxedo shirt open. The machine responded to some command and settled over Saikawa, lights flashing. “I need you to move back.”
Tesla nodded, but neither of the medics paid any attention to her. “Gimlet, heel.” She stood up, and Gimlet moved with her as if the dog were an extension of her own body. Tesla tugged the hem of her skirt down before she remembered the blood coating her hands. Well. It wasn’t as though she’d kept the blood off of the skirt up to this point anyway. And naturally, this one was too expensive to have self-cleaning fibers. She’d have to have it cleaned.
Bracing on the wall, Tesla scanned the hall for Shal, knowing he wasn’t there. At her feet, Gimlet put a paw on her calf and Tesla nodded in appreciation of the reminder. A panic attack right now wouldn’t help anything. She inhaled for a count of four, held it, and exhaled on a four count. Keeping her breathing slow, she studied the corridor again. About a dozen people stood in the hall, not quite willing to abandon the spectacle and return to bed. Three wore courtesy masks, either due to germs, fashion, or to protect themselves from cameras. She took snaps of faces with her online system in case Shal needed to ask them questions later. A leggy blond passenger with a full beard and fantastic purple muumuu. The curvy older crooner from the karaoke lounge. Twins with matching dark shaved heads.
She pinged Shal. ::Update?::
::Mishal Husband is offline. ::
The ship was a Faraday cage with spotty connections half the time. He was fine. Just chasing a murderer through the belly of a spaceship. What could possibly go wrong? She shut down the HUD. If she got really worried, she would ping his subdermal again.
A rounded person with a soft blue bob that just brushed their courtesy mask sidled up to Tesla. “May I … may I pet your dog?”
“No.” Gimlet didn’t have her vest on, so it wasn’t an unfair question. Tesla softened her response. “She’s a service dog. Touching her will distract her from her job.” Sometimes Tesla could handle it, but not right now. Right now, it would feel like having a stranger touch her.
Before she had to deal with the person’s response the service door opened again and a solidly built black security officer stepped through. “Honored passengers. I’m Officer Maria Piper, she/her, with ship security. I’d like to ask you all to follow our team to the concierge lobby.”
As she spoke, a half dozen other crew members, wearing bright-orange safety vests over server uniforms, followed her into the corridor. Officer Piper gestured to the hall, and two crew members broke off to begin knocking on the doors that were still closed.
The passenger in the muumuu said, “Someone’s been stabbed!”
As if Saikawa weren’t lying on the floor with medical hovering over her.
“Which is why we need this area clear.” Piper turned and spotted Tesla, then the blood on her hands and clothes and then Gimlet, before focusing on Tesla again. “None of that’s your blood, is it?”
Lips tight, Tesla shook her head. Because for all of the officer’s polite manner, every single person in this hall was a suspect.
“Then go with everyone else.” She beckoned a skinny towheaded crewmember, and there was a brief moment of hesitation as she looked up and to the left with the sort of squinting double-blink that was probably an ID request to the HUD on her subdermal system. “Take Mx.… Zuraw to the concierge lobby with our other guests. Auberi will meet you and give you a quiet place to get cleaned up.”
Tesla gestured to her cabin door, which … which Saikawa was directly in front of. “This … this is my cabin. I can just change in there.”
Piper shook her head. “I can’t allow that right now. I’ll have someone bring you clean clothes. For the moment, the best thing you can do to help is to follow instructions and give us space to do our job.”
Tesla nodded. “My spouse said he saw someone and went after them.”
With a sigh that contained a veritable treatise on “helpful” passengers, Piper pursed her lips. “Which way did he go?”
Piper nodded, with a frown, and her lips moved slightly as if she were subvocalizing something. She pointed down the hall. “Lobby. Please.”
Tesla and Gimlet followed the crew member and the other passengers back to the concierge lobby, where more uniformed crew members welcomed them with trays of cocktails and coffee, as if this were a reception instead of an attempted-murder investigation. Soft music played in an acoustic rendering of “Lost in Flowers” by the Kingston Blues group Bad Sazerac. The ship’s staff gracefully herded the sleepy, grumbling passengers to the small café tables in the lounge portion of the lobby. Ficus trees dotted the area, backed by big, sweeping “windows” that purported to show the starfield they were crossing. Except, of course, if you could see the actual stars, the speed with which the ship rotated would just make you nauseous. Tesla did not need help feeling nauseous.
Gimlet barked, pulling Tesla’s gaze away from the starfield. Best dog. Her heart was already beating too fast and a flashback would be … unhelpful.
A moment later, Auberi arrived and let a brief grimace cross their face. “Everything is porridge! Pardon, but the public restroom is not in order for the moment. But I am told that you may utilize the toilet of the employees.”
“That’s fine. Thank you.” She followed Auberi behind the desk, waiting while they used their wrist fob to key the lock.
“This way, if you please.” Auberi held the door, eyes scanning the lobby for anything that needed their attention. “The restroom door is to your right. I must…”
“Of course.” Tesla slipped into the small office space behind the concierge desk. It was an austere box with lower ceilings than the lobby and was lined with storage lockers. She let go of Gimlet’s lead and the bloody splotches she’d left on it vanished as it self-cleaned. “Gimlet, release.”
Instead of bounding away to check out the room, Gimlet stood on her hind legs to brace herself against Tesla’s knee. Her button-dark eyes studied Tesla for damage, snuffling at the blood on her skirt. Tesla couldn’t reach down to reassure her dog, because she still had blood on her hands.
The door to the right opened onto a coffin-sized toilet, with a tiny washbasin built into the wall. Tesla triggered the soap dispenser and then waved her hands under the faucet to activate the water. As she scrubbed, the suds on her hands turned ruddy. Tesla felt the pressure of her palms against each other but not the slickness of the soap or the visible dampness. With the DBPS on override, she’d lost fine sensory feedback.
Outside the bathroom, Auberi said, “Mx. Zuraw? I come to bring clean clothes for you. Officer Piper requests of me to recover your skirt.”
Translation: you are covered in blood, and that is evidence.
“Thanks. I’ll be right out.”
Steam rose from the water and Tesla yanked her hands out. How hot was it?
She really needed to put the safeties back on the DBPS. It was easy to do more damage when she turned the pain signals off completely. It had taken her a long time after the Accident to learn the difference between chronic pain and new-damage pain.
Grimacing in anticipation, she tapped the DBPS down a notch. On the other side of a velvet wall, a cobweb of bright-red barbed wire waited along the sides of her spine.
At least she looked less like an ax murderer. The room seemed to recede around her, darkening at the edges. Someone had nearly been murdered. Tesla put her hand on the wall to steady herself as she waited the moment out. Wall. Toilet. Mirror. Post-it with “Friendly Greeters Smile at Three Meters.” Motivational poster of sleeping kittens with “Are you ready to be your best self today?”
::What do kittens have to do with best selves?:: she pinged Shal.
::Mishal Husband is offline. ::
Rolling her eyes, Tesla opened the door to the tiny bathroom. Gimlet was sitting with her nose against the door and nudged it the rest of the way open. Her entire body transformed into wiggles of joy and relief. Gimlet circled, tail wagging in a semaphore of concern that she might never have seen Tesla ever again.
“Silly. I was going to come back.” She knelt to supply the necessary ear skritches, and Gimlet melted her entire body against Tesla.
Auberi awaited, holding a hanger with a subdued purple number in one hand and in the other a tray bearing a glass containing a cousin of a Manhattan. “I have printed a wrap skirt for you, thinking it most comfortable. Also, a Boulevardier. Josie, of the R-Bar, said that it is your preferred drink. I hope I have not exceeded?”
“You are phenomenal.” Kneeling on the floor of the tiny, slightly grubby office, Tesla focused on priorities. She lifted the cocktail and took a sip of the tart sweetness in her glass. The tight muscles of her upper back relaxed a little, and her shoulders lowered with the aromas of citrus and honeyed grain.
She had clothes. She had a cocktail. What she needed next was a plan.
“I’m having trouble connecting to my spouse … Mishal Husband. Could you help me find him, so I can let him know where I am?”
The mask of careful consideration slipped and froze. Auberi wiped their hands on their trousers and wet their lips. “Pardon … Mx. Husband has been arrested.”
2 oz bourbon
.75 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Shake ingredients over ice for 13 seconds. Garnish with cherry.
If there was one thing Tesla’s daddy had taught her, it was always to have your lawyer on speed dial.
Her grandma had taught her that, when Tesla’s rage turned a room incandescent red, the best thing to do was to stay very, very still. The time her elementary school science teacher had marked her correct answer about the most recent supernova as wrong “because it wasn’t in the textbook” had impressed in Tesla’s mind how effective that stillness could be. It was also the first time she used any version of “I want to speak to the manager” when she asked to go to the principal’s office in a voice that was, in hindsight, too cold and flat for a ten-year-old.
So she petted Gimlet and waited until Auberi was out of the office, even though Tesla really, really wanted to slam things.
She did not wait until the room stopped being red to call her lawyer, because the round-trip comms time meant she would have about two minutes to cool down. She also did not wait to find out if Fantine would answer the phone to start talking, because of course she would.
It was Tesla Crane calling. Even if they weren’t friends, she would have picked up. So Tesla started talking as she changed clothes, laying everything out and keeping her voice from rising because the point of calling her lawyer was to follow her lawyer’s advice. She wasn’t going to undercut whatever that advice turned out to be by shouting so loudly that everyone in the Yacht Club could hear her.
“What have you don—” Fantine had a sleep mask pushed up on her forehead and gel packs pasted under her eyes. She paused, staring at the screen for a moment as she caught up to Tesla’s ranting. “Holy Saint Dymphna’s dad. They arrested Shal? Why—Okay. You’re answering…”
As she listened, Fantine got out of bed and the background faded to a discreet blur behind her, but Tesla had been in her home often enough to tell that she was heading to her walk-in closet. “All right. I’m putting on my battle armor. You’ll need to transfer me off subdermal, because we’re not doing this on your cornea. Borrow a handheld so the festering chowderheads can see me as I explain to them the error of their ways.”
Which, if Tesla knew Fantine, meant that she was going to reach through the cosmos to rip out their entire intestinal tract and use it for macramé.
“Copy that.” She tucked her bloodstained skirt in the polyamide bag Auberi had provided and stood. “I’ll work on getting a handheld—since they won’t let me go back to my cabin. And…”
Fantine kept going, talking over Tesla in the two-minute delay. “If anyone balks, cite the Titan Convention, section five, paragraph twenty-three, and if they balk I’ll eat their nethers on toast. Now, go find your spouse.”
Tesla tried pinging Shal and widened her search to look for his tracker anywhere on the ship.
::Mishal Husband is offline. His last known location is…::
The network showed that he was in the Golden Promenade, but it was probably an artifact. Gripping Gimlet’s leash, Tesla pulled the office door open and poked her head out, glancing at the ridiculous “golden” promenade with the vain hope that Shal would magically appear. The entire ghastly length of it was empty, which probably had something to do with the yellow caution tape stretched across the end. “Auberi?”
The young concierge jumped, turning so fast that their aubergine cloud-surfer’s forelock flopped to the other side of their face. “Mx. Zuraw!” Their hand fluttered to their smooth chest. “You startled me.”
Tesla clamped her jaw shut and took a shuddering breath. This was not Auberi’s fault. “I’m sorry. Do you have a handheld I can borrow?”
“But of course!” Poor Auberi seemed positively grateful to have something active they could do. They reached into their pocket and pulled out a compact cylinder.
“Thank you.” Tesla wrapped Gimlet’s leash around her wrist and snapped the cylinder open to unscroll the screen of the handheld to its full-size tablet configuration. “I’m going to make a call to Earth, which I trust you can charge to my room.”
The concierge’s eyes widened a mere fraction. “Of course.” They cleared their throat. “I am required to tell you, by ship’s rules, that such a call has a per-minute rate of—”
“I know.” Tesla held up her hand. Her father had designed the network that the entire solar system communicated on, and while in other circumstances she might feel guilty about the assumptions that came with privilege, these assholes had arrested her spouse. “Just bill the charge to my room.”
Nodding to the concierge, Tesla patched her subdermal into the handheld. Armed with knowledge and a lawyer, she scanned the room looking for Officer Piper. She stood on the far side of the Yacht Club lounge, jotting notes as she listened to the leggy, bearded passenger in the fantastic purple muumuu.
Tesla paused to grab the blood-skirt bag from the tiny office and stepped back out. Having a helpful excuse to approach the security officer would make things start off smoother, and hopefully she could get what she wanted without having to do a serious escalation.
“Here we go.” Tesla led Gimlet across the lobby. The Westie could be a brat when she was off-duty, but she must have known that things were serious, because she fell right into step by Tesla’s side without the heel command. As she walked, Tesla drew her head up and put her shoulders back. Her stride lengthened. The wrap skirt became a fashion choice that would be emulated in Paris.
The security officer saw her coming and grimaced. She held up a hand to slow Tesla’s approach, and that was fine. Tesla would be gracious enough to let the officer finish her interview with the passenger, but that was all the waiting she was going to do.
Gimlet booped Tesla’s leg with her nose, reminding her to take a breath. She visualized golden sunlight filling her from the top of her head, but it kept turning sparkling like the promenade. The longer she waited, the harder it was to stay calm.
The door to the Yacht Club hissed open behind Tesla. She turned, willing it to be Shal walking in. No luck. A person with vivid teal hair stepped into the hall. They weren’t particularly tall, but all their height was in their legs and the current high-waisted trouser style made them seem like they were a pair of shoulders on stilts.
Gimlet gave her “hello” bark, which always sounded as if she were saying “yoo-hoo.”
The person scowled, dropping their gaze to the little dog’s wagging tail, and Tesla immediately knew that she didn’t like them. They huffed.
Behind her, Piper said, “Shit. He’s here.” A moment later she rushed past Tesla straight to the shoulders on stilts. “Mx. Kuznetsova, I’m Officer Maria Piper, she/her, with ship security. May I ask you to come with me?”
“My dear, I’m sure whatever it is can wait until tomorrow.” Mx. Kuznetsova was presumably the “he” who was here, although Tesla didn’t know why Piper was waiting for him. His words were overly precise, as if he were covering for being drunk. “I’ve just had a spectacularly good evening in the casino.”
Piper blocked his attempt to go around her, holding her hands up in a placating gesture. “I’m afraid this can’t wait. If you’d come with me, please.”
“Why?” He frowned, looking around the room, and seemed to finally see all the things that were not right.
The passengers in bathrobes and pajamas. The yellow caution tape. His gaze landed on Tesla, and she became painfully aware of the fact that she was holding a clear bag with a bloodstained skirt. Damn fashion and its fascination with “natural wear.”
Piper hesitated. “I’m about to give you some bad news, and I think you’d prefer to be somewhere quiet.”
He was still staring at the bag Tesla was carrying and almost seemed to be addressing her. “Tell me what’s hap—” He took in a quick breath, looking around the room again. “Oh God. Oh. Oh, no.”
“No.” He raised a shaking finger. His eyes were red-rimmed and it looked like he was having trouble catching his breath. “No. I do not prefer to be somewhere quiet. And don’t you dare lie to me. You’ve got bad news and George is offline! Why?”
By the end of it, he was shouting. All the other conversations in the lobby had stopped. Auberi had come around the concierge desk and stood on their toes with a box of paper tissue in their hands.
Piper kept her voice low and gentle. “I’m so sorry. She is dead.”
“Dead? Dead, how?” Kuznetsova’s voice was shaking.
Down the Golden Promenade, two white crew members headed their way. One was a wall of muscle and neck and the other, a little bit in the lead, was maybe in their mid-seventies with the tight leanness of a long-distance runner. They slipped under the caution tape, holding it up for the wall of muscle to clamber under.
“Security Chief Wisor is here. Please, let us take you someplace quiet where we can answer all of your questions.”
Kuznetsova got around Piper and stalked toward Tesla. “What isn’t she telling me?”
Behind them, Piper shook her head, drawing a hand across her throat as she focused on Tesla. If this were Shal’s investigation, he’d want her to be quiet, too, to keep from tainting a witness. Too bad for them that they’d arrested her spouse. “George was stabbed—I don’t know by whom, but my spouse and I were the first on the scene.”
Piper’s face went still with the kind of suppressed rage that nearly matched Tesla’s grandma’s. Tesla straightened her shoulders and pursed her lips slightly as a shield.
The lean officer walked up to Kuznetsova, completely ignoring Tesla. “Mx. Kuznetsova. I’m Security Chief Wisor, he/him. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Fuck you! How the fuck does someone get murdered on a fucking cruise ship?”
Chief Wisor took the shouting and nodded slowly. “That’s a question we all have. We’ve arrested the man who did it—”
Tesla took a step forward. “You did not—”
He whipped around, and if there hadn’t been witnesses, he looked like he might have hit her. “You be quiet.”
As security chief, Wisor should know who she really was, and while she normally hated taking advantage of the privilege that came with the Crane name, she would absolutely use it now if he was going to lie to the dead passenger’s friend. Tesla pointed at the screen, which showed Fantine, who was crocheting as she waited. “This is my lawyer, in Low Earth Orbit, where your parent company is, and in about two minutes, she will begin explaining to you what’s going to happen this morning.”
Chief Wisor looked like his teeth hurt and as if he did, in fact, know exactly who she was. He turned back to Kuznetsova. “Sir, I’m very sorry. Please know that while we cannot do anything to make things right, we’ll make certain that justice is able to be served.”
“Justice?” Kuznetsova started to laugh or weep and then he covered his face, sobs choking out of him.
Wisor turned to the wall of muscle. “Bob. Auberi. Show Mx. Kuznetsova to the concierge office so he can have some privacy.”
Trembling, Kuznetsova tried to pull himself up, but his eyes were red and swollen. He nodded, accepting a tissue from Auberi as he followed them to the tiny office. What a dismal place to grieve.
Tesla swallowed, then turned to face Wisor. She held out the blood-skirt bag. “This is the skirt I was wearing. I presume you want to keep the chain of evidence clear, and it has not been out of my hands.”
He scowled as he took it. “Next time, try not helping.”
“I would say I’m sorry, but you’ve arrested my spouse.” Tesla was being That Person, the one that Shal complained about who turned up on every job as if they owned the place and the solar system revolved around them. It was never a good look. And until she was reunited with Shal, they could just give up any hope of good behavior from her.
The air chilled between them as Wisor regarded Tesla and the screen with Fantine. “All right. What do you and your lawyer want?”
“Thank you for understanding the urgency of the situation.”
Wisor snorted. Around them, the other passengers continued to sip their cocktails, chatting as if murder were part of standard cruise activities.
“My lawyer will need a clear explanation of why you arrested my spouse. And after that, you may take me to him.”
“Ma’am, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“First of all, did you just ma’am me? Really? Is that level of gendered condescension how things are going to go here? And second, if my spouse is on the ship, then yes, you can take me to him.” Tesla had encountered his type before. “Real men” who felt like they had to prove themselves with every second word. “You can also take his lawyer to him, or are you planning to violate interplanetary law, especially the Titan Convention, section five, paragraph twenty-three?”
In all honesty, she didn’t know what that was, but since Fantine had included those magic words in her instructions for managing obstructive oafs, Tesla was damn well going to use them.
“Now, ma’—” Wisor cleared his throat. “There’s no need for you to go to that sort of expense when we can just—”
“You have to know who I am.” Despite Shal’s efforts to protect Tesla from the public, hiding the information about her identity from the ship would have meant hiding it from border patrol, and that would have been illegal. It was better to save the illegal shit for the times when you really needed it. A honeymoon wasn’t that.
“I … I do.” His face said that he was unimpressed. “But it’s still an expe—”
“So, I’ll thank you to not pretend that the cost of a call to Earth is a barrier.” When facing someone who insisted on ma’aming her—someone who was between her and her spouse—she was willing to use her wealth like a bludgeon. “The only barrier is the fact that you are blocking my calls to my spouse.”
Wisor tucked his chin in, making the buzz of his hair flash silver in the lobby lights. “All right. Let’s you and me go to my office. We can speak more comfortably there.”
Resting her weight on her heels, Tesla gave a smile as frozen as the far side of an asteroid. “I believe I was clear. We are going to my spouse, and any conversation we have will take place there.”
Wisor exchanged glances with his colleague. “No. You are either a witness or an accessory to murder. I will not escort you to your husband. Now, you can either go to my office voluntarily or I can put you in cuffs.”
“I see.” Tesla had to bite down on her impulse to go nova on him.
Gimlet huffed, not even a full bark, just a doggy muttered warning to leave her person alone. The man flinched, as if seven kilos of white fluff were a bigger threat than Tesla.
“Gimlet! Be sweet.”
She’d met people like the chief security officer before, and the only thing he was going to respond to was a bully who was bigger than he was. Fine. She’d tried clear and direct. If power was the game he wanted to play, she’d play it. Tesla held her hands out to be cuffed. “I’m sure all these fine people would love to watch you cuff me. And it will make such lovely footage for my lawyer to show to your boss.”
“Have it your way. I’ll ask my questions here.” Wisor crossed his arms and glared at her. “What is your relationship to George Saikawa?”
Rude, to omit the person’s pronouns, since it was unimaginable that the security chief wouldn’t have access to that information. Based on the chief’s age, he’d probably grown up before that was standard etiquette.
Tesla wanted to ask if George had family on board. Instead, she tilted her head and waited.
Wisor tucked his chin in again, in a way that he clearly thought was intimidating. “Ma’am?”
“Oh! You thought I would answer now?” She shook her finger at him. “So naughty, Mx. Wisor. Trying to get me to answer without my lawyer’s advice.”
“Your lawyer is right there, ma’am.”
“Ma’am again…” She sighed. “My attorney is in Low Earth Orbit, so what we’re going to do is this. You are going to tell me all of your questions, and when she hears them, she will advise me. I assume you have other questions?”
“I could cite you for obstruction.”
“That would make sense if I were refusi—”
On her borrowed handheld, Fantine drew in a sharp breath. “Oh, for the love of Saint Ivo. I’m a good two minutes behind, but I’m guessing by this point, based on the doucherocket you have for a brain, that you’ve attempted to put my client in cuffs for no material reason. This is not yet addressing the fact that you arrested my other client without taking the time it would take for a dog to fart to review security footage or interview witnesses. If you think for one second that I’m going to let this incompetent, illegal, and grossly negligent behavior stand, you’ll need to install a shunt in your nethers to see where I put your head.”
Wisor’s mouth hung open a moment.
Tesla smiled at him. “Go ahead and ask your questions. She’ll answer them when they get to her.”
Fantine continued her rant: “You’ve said that my client is a witness to a murder, which means that you should also be aware that my other client had blood on his hands because he was first on the scene. I’ve put in a request for the security footage from your—”
“There is no security footage.” Wisor’s space-pale cheeks went splotchy red.
“Parent company. While I’m waiting for that—”
“Someone used a spoofer. So there’s a question for your client. Why did she and her husband have a device of the same make and model in their cabin?”
Tesla kept her mouth clamped shut around the answer to that. It was their honeymoon. Shal had installed a device that would show surveillance cameras a looped recording to protect her. Being the heir to the Crane fortune meant that there were tabloids that would pay good money for footage of her having sex. Would and had.
“Footage, you are going to allow me to see my other client—”
“Why did the knife used have his fingerprints on it?”
“So that I can determine that he has been treated in a manner consistent with—”
“And why did a witness identify your husband as the murderer?”
Copyright © 2022 by Mary Robinette Kowal