author's note: this is my first attempt at Sci-Fi. Something I don't normally want to write, but this was for a contest that intrigued me. I didn't make the cut for the contest or magazine.
By Denise Hartman Godwin
Three thousand habitable planets in the known universe, and I'm stuck on the only one without a public toilet. Guess they don’t get visitors much. It wasn’t bad enough being human and sticking out like a sore thumb, but I had to go. This would be a good time for one of those male style urination kits, but I didn’t have one.
I went into a café and ordered a faux coffee. While the barrista made my drink, I asked for the toilet. He pointed to a dark corner and I scurried back. The door was coin operated. You gotta give me a break. Who uses money anymore? This planet was driving me crazy.
I pretended to fiddle in my pockets knowing I didn’t have money. I heard water and hoped I could catch the door. It swooshed open in the wall socket and a large gray skinned Svabodan stepped out. I bumped her but made it inside before the door swished closed. Two white stalls, one with boots from last century and an empty. Relief was in sight.
As I settled myself, the telltale swoosh of the door indicated another customer. Mid-tinkle I heard a sound that chilled me. It was the unmistakable hiss of a deadly and illegal cone pistol.
In spite of myself, the tinkle stream stopped. I saw a drip of blood in the next stall. The shifty feet of the killer moved my way. I forced the urine to flow again like I hadn’t noticed anything. Lord knows, I still had more in me.
The girl in the old school boots dripped blood on the white tile but made no sound. It must have been a clean shot. My hand shook as I reached for the drying paper. Was I gonna meet my maker with my pants down? Sheesh. Not my day.
I peeked through a vandal’s carving in the wall and saw an orange forearm with a luz guild tattoo, and a cone pistol.
The door swooshed and I saw the feet back away, heard running water, smelled my own fear and then the door closed again. I realized I was holding my breath and my forehead was clammy. I dried my face and listened with all my might.
Shifting feet. The quiet dragged on and a high voice obviously coming through a translator box said, “You girls are taking forever. I gotta go.”
I took a deep breath. Was this a newcomer or the killer? I stepped out and looked past the dyed-pink body of a Thraxian. She about shoved me over going into the stall. I figured she was another victim of the toiletless planet.
I’d landed my transporter because of a faulty silinoid stack. I’m handy at flying and I even did an EMT stint, but mechanics I don’t do. Two more planets and I’d have been able to make my delivery, but when your electrics go, you gotta do something fast. You don’t want to end up floating through space hoping for a barge to bump into you. Been there, done that, learned the lesson.
Another lesson I’d learned is don’t get involved. My mom was an illegal in the United Western Hemisphere on earth and she worried about getting caught. Never under any circumstances were we to notice anything or talk to off-planeters or report that we’d been robbed.
The EMT training countermanded that with the sense I should do something.
I peeked under the stall and saw the Verdian was past helping. Now the don’t-get-involved voice was back. I looked over at the blood pooling.
The thing was I seemed to be the only human on the block, an obvious out-of-towner, an easy scapegoat for those wanting to deny local crime. Plus I didn’t know if they did camera chips. If so, they’d know I was in this bathroom. If not, I could hide out, wait for the silinoid stack and be off with no one the wiser. I’d been accused of crimes before because of the camera chips. I’d better play it safe and tell the barrista.
I walked up grabbed my beverage and blurted it out before I got cold feet. “Someone in the ladies’ is bleeding on your floor. She didn’t say anything when I…..uh.” Stop talking. Don’t involve yourself.
The barrista looked blank and finally moved to take a look. I could make a run for it, but that would look more suspicious, especially if there were cameras. He came back with the pink Thraxian frustrated and put out. He muttered through his mustache as he punched the phone, “Like I want to spend my day with cops in here kicking the place down. Why’d she have to get it in my toilet?”
He spoke up to someone on the line, “I’m at the Crust and Ketchup Café in the white zone. Yeah, I got a human who found a dead Verdian in my toilet. Yeah, we’ll stay here.”
“It’s not my fault.” I told him when he got off the phone. “I just had to pee.” “Everything was fine til you got here.”
I could see all too fast how this day was going to go. “You got cameras in here? A Svabodan came out when I was going in. Then while I was in the stall someone came in and I could only see her shoes. It was red platform pumps with built in levitators. They sell those on this planet?”
“What are you now, the cops?”
I pushed my brown human untreated hair away from my forehead in a heap. “No, I’m hoping I don’t have to stay here forever and you can give the cops the screens. I don’t want to get caught up with cops either.”
“Speak of the devil,” the barrista said picking up a rag. “Hola, Officer Jones.”
A familiar voice said, “Why Mr. Crust, it’s nice to make your acquaintance again.”
I stiffened. Surely on a planet all the way out here it couldn’t be. I only knew a few human Joneses and it was a big universe. I squinted at the shiny bottles of flavorings behind the café bar.
That familiar voice behind me said, “No way on the freaking planet. I’d recognize that tush anywhere.”
I turned to see a stunned Officer Jones sporting a local brown cop uniform taunt across his still broad shoulders and dark hair still a little too long. Indeed the one who had gone through EMT training with me. We’d dated and had a serious thing, but we were going different directions. I was afraid to get involved.
“What? Did they demote you that you are out on the edge of the galaxy?” I smirked and he gave my arm a squeeze.
“Tell me, Cat, you didn’t off a Verdian in the ladies’?”
“I didn’t off anyone. What do you think I am? Sheesh, I had to pee.”
“Park it here while I go inspect.” He took an all-purpose off his belt. She saw him switch it to camera mode and he started narrating the cop speak into it as he walked. A light beam popped on. Good quality stuff for the far reaches.
The pink Thraxian sipped the free Maximum Dew. The green glow of the drink was reflecting off her face. “Are we gonna be stuck here all day?” Her high-pitched translator grated hard on the ear.
“I hope not. Who went out when you came in?”
The screechy translator box shrilled, “What are you, the cops?”
Jones called out from the other room. “No talking between witnesses. That’s an order, Cat.”
Sheesh. Just trying to move things on. I sipped my drink without talking. Jones came back. He stood a little closer than necessary and asked for screens.
Crust shimmied his mustache and poked some buttons on a console. After a while he muttered, “The system’s down again. I can’t seem to raise anything.”
Jones swore. I thought I could have bolted and been off this rock by now. Not my day.
Pinky couldn’t seem to remember anyone coming out when she was going in. I wasn’t buying it, but it wasn’t mine to investigate. Jones sighed and took her information. I was grateful the squeaky translator box was leaving.
“Here’s my impression of what went down.”
“Hold it right there, fellow human.” His tone made me pull up. “Since you don’t have an address on this planet, I’d like to take your statement somewhere official.” The crime scene droids arrived and he gave orders. He directed me to his on-planet vehicle. Something was fishy out here at the end of the galaxy, so I just went along acting put out.
Once he’d deposited me in the passenger seat and secured the vehicle with blinder screens he said, “The walls in this town have ears, I’m telling you,” he paused to look too deeply into my eyes and a stirring of long blown-off emotion bubbled into my memory. “I know you’re observant and you have something for me. I didn’t want it all over the planet before I could log it.”
“What are you doing out here beyond forever? You get demoted?” I tried to tease and hide how good it was to see him. I thought I’d cut that out and thrown it away. I shoved the mop of my hair self-consciously away from my face. “I walked in as a gray Svabodan walked out. I took a stall and someone with red platform pumps with built in levitators came in with a cone pistol and offed the chick in the next stall. No noise, no threats. Whoever it was, was coming after me when Pinky walked in. They sell those kind of levitators around here?”
Jones ran a hand across his eyes like it was too much. “Did you tell anyone this?”
“Uh, I mentioned it to the barrista.”
“Not good. Why’d you have to do that?”
“I thought about cutting. I was worried about cameras and trying to cover my own…”
“I’m sure. I’m out here under cover. This sector has a serious Lunar mafia problem and it’s based on this planet. The levitators are their product, but they sell them too, so we can’t use that to pin them. Red, you say? I’ve never seen red ones. That might be something. I’m working on evidence for a sting, but I’m not there yet. We think there are components operating in the planet police department.”
“You are up a creek and I don’t see a boat.”
“You could help me set up the sting. Say you actually saw the criminal and we put you in a hostel and stake it out. I have a few cops I can trust. Off-planeters who’ve migrated here.”
I shook my head while he spoke. “Nuh, uh, no way, no how, not in this century. I’m not being a piece of meat in your trap. I’ve got a delivery to make two planets away and when my transport is ready I’m out of here. I wouldn’t have left the garage, except I had to pee. Sheesh.”
“Oh. That’s right.” His voice oozed sarcasm, “You won’t commit to anything. That’s why we aren’t together; you aren’t in an official industry, and why you can’t be a good citizen.”
“Think what you want. I’m still me.”
“You know what, Cat? Sometime, somewhere you’re gonna have to get involved. Why not in rescuing a planet that’s being slowly strangled by mafia? Is a planet’s quality of life, maybe a whole sector’s, worth a little kindness?”
I put my hand on the handle, “If I were you, I’d look for someone with a luz guild tattoo on their orange forearm.”
Jones grabbed my arm as I went to get out, “You saw that?” His eyes sparkled with the scent of a good lead. I nodded. “You mention THAT?” I shook my head. He growled to himself, “I only have 10 minutes left to file my report.”
“Been good seeing you, Jonesy.” I popped the handle and set out down the street with a small sting of regret for having left him behind again. I sighed and trotted into the garage. My transporter was up on the rack, but pieces of it appeared to be strewn around the facility. Not a good sign for an immediate take off. One hour the droid assured me.
I flung myself into a seat and flipped screens of magazines in languages I didn’t know how to read, trying not to think of the days at EMT school when it looked like Jones and I could be a real item. He was right. I always had to run in the end. My whole life was running. I pitched the worthless foreign language digital onto the table and walked to the window. The transporter pieces reassembled slowly. The droid was precise if not fast. I sighed and then tuned in to the outside view. Not good. In maybe 15 minutes I could be out of here, but a bevy of police vehicles hurtled down on the garage.
Without a conscious thought, I turned and ran out a back door of the garage right into Jonesy’s muscled chest. “Cat, listen fast.” He grabbed my arms. “The mob got to Pinky and she turned on you. I’ve got all the people and camera chips I need in place to watch my dirty lieutenant and catch him talking to Pinky or planting evidence on you, if you’ll play along and let me arrest you. I’m asking. Otherwise you can sock me and run around this planet avoiding the Lunar mafia and me and the not-so-upright cops. Your choice. You have 10 seconds.”
“What a choice.” I held my hands out to be cuffed. “I guess I’ll do my good deed.” He trussed me up like a gourmet bird headed for a flash roaster and whispered in my ear, “I got people looking for the orange arm girl. She’s our missing link.”
He reached and flipped a switch on his communicator and a local accent blared, “Report Officer Jones. Come in.”
“My communicator malfunctioned. Can you hear me now? I have suspect. Report.”
“I hear you. Bring her to the precinct.”
“I’ll land on my feet, Jonesy.” I whispered.
“You always do.”
I had to admit he’d been gentle with the plastic cuffs and tried to make it easy on me. I hate getting arrested. I knew it would take a few hours for the evidence bins to get collected and the interviews confirmed. Worst case scenario, we had to wait for orange arm to resurface. That could be days, but I wanted to be optimistic. Here I was doing my good deed for a planet helping them throw off Lunar mob rule, in spite of myself. I paced the cell staying clear of the electric bars and tried not to imagine things going bad.
I’d laid down on the bed, feigning sleep and disinterest while my mind churned. It’s not good to be able to identify a killer. If they could make the link to those inside the force and clean up the planet’s leaders, what was a few hours?
A clang at the steel door announced an officer bringing food. My appetite wasn’t flying. When he leaned over to put the food down, he slipped a print out of an orange gal with levitators and a tattoo discreetly toward me. His back between me and the camera chips I assumed. He raised his eyebrows in a silent question. I nodded.
“Thanks for the chow.”
He backed out of the cell and re-engaged the electric bars. Even the station had eyes and ears apparently. I wondered if I’d get off this planet, but I felt Jonesy wouldn’t fail me. He was the kind of guy you could count on. That made me uneasy in my skin. I wasn’t always the most reliable. I took to pacing more and picked at the slack soybread meat product sandwich. The large carafe of water appealed, but I wondered if I’d have to pay to use the toilet here too. Or was this the only free toi-dy in the sector?
The lights went to night mode, but I had no doubt the camera chips had night vision. The door suddenly opened and Jones hustled in turning off the bars and dragging me out in one swift motion. “My transmission back to the bureau was intercepted and we are both about to be hunted.” He muttered into my ear and I didn’t mind his close proximity, but the words were pretty disturbing. “I need to get you off this planet now. Your transport is ready, so blast off unannounced.”
“What about you? Come with me. You’re in danger if they caught your report.”
“I want you safe first. It’s easier if I only have to worry over my own skin.”
He was speeding toward the garage dock.
“What can I do for you?”
“I want to help.”
“Well, glory be. She has a soul,” he said to the top of the car. “You can make my transmission to the bureau when you get to hyperspace away from the planet scanners.”
“How will you get away?”
“I’ll lay low til the cavalry comes. I’ll get you a message when it’s over.”
I started pulling brake blocks on my transport as he talked. “What about…?” It was hard for me to form the words. “When will I see you?”
“I have no idea but I’ll be in touch.” He reached out and touched my cheek. “Now, get out of here.” He slipped a chip in my palm.
I scrambled the gravity reverse and blasted out without the usual preliminaries or announcements to air control. As I hit the jets for outer atmosphere, I saw a blast go across my back. Someone had noticed me. I juggled the chip into my communicator and hit send. A few quiet moments in space passed with nothing in my rear radar, then I got back a text screen: “International Bureau of Investigation confirms message receipt. Officer Jones.”
Good deed done and cavalry on it’s way. That felt pretty good, even though I was worried about Jonesy. It was a nice change not to be running away from him this time. Maybe I could get used to this. Hopefully Jones would survive to see the new improved me.
Two days later, I got a text. “All is well. Thanks to you. What sector are you in? Let’s meet.”