A Scene From My Work In Progress

Just for fun, I thought I’d post a scene that I’ve been working on. This is from early in the novel, so while it contains important plot points, it’s not much of a spoiler. It takes place aboard the Colonial Union Ship William S. Halliday, which is currently docked with the Deep Space Telescopic Array Station, on which Dr. Alphons Tou has been killed. Inspector Crandall is investigating.

Note, as this is a draft, that I have tags in there for things I’m going to go back and fix later. This helps me move matters along rather than get bogged down in minutiae: by not stopping to worry about a technical detail, I can maintain momentum. As some would phrase it, I’m fending off the editor brain to give the writer brain a chance to work.

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The infirmary hatch slid open to admit Crandall as he approached. He knocked on the open hatchway.

“Eh? Oh, it’s you. Come on in, Inspector.”

Crandall stepped inside and peered around the corner. Matsumoto stood with his arms folded, and a crewman sitting on an examination table struggled to pull his uniform tunic back on.

“I’m sorry, doctor, I didn’t realize you were with a patient.”

“Hmm?” Matsumoto glanced at the crewman as if only then noticing his presence. “You going to die, son?”

The crewman looked stricken. “No sir, I hope.”

“Good, go take a nap. Come back in half an hour.” The crewman bounded off, buttoning the front of his tunic as he passed the hatch.

“Sinus infection,” Matsumoto explained. “Have a seat, Inspector, take a load off. Let me call up Tou’s file.”

Crandall hopped up onto the examination table and watched as text-filled colored swatches filled the air in front of them. Matsumoto daubed the air, trying twice with obvious irritation to push away unwanted boxes before succeeding and then enlarging a blue box marked ‘blood chemistry’.

“Can’t stand this interface,” he mumbled. “I suppose it’s hygienic, but it’s frustrating as hell. All right, you don’t care about that. Have a look here. See this, in the trace compounds? Those are the metabolic markers for a drug called Somnifel. You familiar with it?”

“Sure, taken it a few times to help me sleep.”

“You’d expect to see [[markers? metabolites?]] after someone takes a dose, but you can build up a tolerance to it. In that case, you take higher doses that take longer to leave your system.”

Crandall nodded. “Dr. Ma said that it’s pretty popular on some of these deep space missions. A lot of people build up that tolerance.”

“He’s right. Common as hydrogen. Rebound insomnia’s a problem with it too, so while it’s not addictive, people tend to stay on it for a long time once they start. Doesn’t take too long before they’re taking doses that are still in their systems ten, twelve hours later.”

Crandall nodded again, feeling uncertain. “That’s what I was told. Dr. Ma said that it was consistent with taking a large dose in the prior sleep shift. The auto-dispensary on the Array said he’s been taking it for a while.”

“Fair enough.” Matsumoto wagged a finger. “But I know something that your Dr. Ma doesn’t know. Alphons Tou should not have been on Somnifel. Did the Captain tell you that Tou had been in the service?”

Crandall nodded.

“Did he say what branch?”

“They wouldn’t release his services records, either to me or to the Array staff.”

“Well, I do have access. And back when Dr. Tou was Lt. Tou, it just happens that he was in SIGINT — signal intelligence.” Matsumoto looked at him expectantly.

“Sorry, doc, I’m afraid I don’t see the connection.”

Matsumoto sighed. “Somnifel has amnesiac side effects — that’s why it’s so popular. But that’s also why Tou wasn’t allowed to take it, ever. It’s a security risk. There are other drugs they’re permitted, but they’re encouraged to not take anything.”

Crandall considered that. “All right. But for the sake of argument, he left the service fifteen years ago. And his file from the Array does say he’d gotten a week’s worth from the dispensary the day before he died. Maybe he figured it was all right, or he just liked it better.”

Matsumoto grunted and folded his arms. “You haven’t met many intelligence officers, have you, Inspector?”

“It’s unlikely?”

“Very.”

Crandall bit his lip. “But not impossible.”

Matsumoto threw up his hands. “No, not impossible. Nor is it impossible for him to forget his training and ignore the signs of CO2 poisoning. But two ‘not impossibles’ seem pretty damn unlikely to me, Inspector.”

“You think Tou was murdered.”

“Now hang on, I didn’t say that.”

“All right, you think someone drugged him.”

The ship surgeon frowned. “I’ve said all I care to I think, Inspector. The detective work is your thing, not mine.”

Crandall studied him. “The dispensary computer says he’s been taking it for a while. If he hasn’t been, then someone either changed its logs or was planning ahead.” He thought about that, then shook his head. “But then what happened to the pills? The count in the dispensary matches what it thinks it should have.”

Matsumoto shrugged. “Someone else took them. Or hid them.”

“Is there a way to find out which is the case?”

“Depends. Do they have a reclamation system?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do they have a gadget that cleans leftover pharmaceuticals out of piss and recycles them into pills?”

Crandall looked at him, aghast.

“Oh, don’t be so damn prissy, Inspector. It’s a closed system. They probably do. It won’t be perfect, though, it’d miss some, and a fair bit will be metabolized anyway. Let’s see, the whole crew is pretty healthy…” He scratched his chin, then daubed at the interface again. And then again, in frustration. He swore, and tried a third time. Numbers came up in the air over his fingers. He manipulated them briefly.

“If they vended 1000 milligrams, then if every pill is swallowed, metabolized, processed through healthy organs, and excreted, then I figure they’d have needed to requisition [[SOME AMOUNT]] milligrams from us to square it up. If they asked for a lot less, then someone probably flushed them whole. If they requisitioned a lot more than that per thousand milligrams, then you’ve got pills floating around that nobody swallowed — that, or someone’s pissing in corners.” Matsumoto grinned. “You ever been on a ship with a phantom shitter? Fine naval tradition, that. I always enjoy giving the inevitable lecture on DNA analysis.”

Crandall tried not to think about that. “Thanks doc, I appreciate the help.”

“Any time. When you go back to the Array, tell that Scanlon person to get his ass over here if he wants a dental checkup before the Halliday pushes off.”

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