Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Work in Progress: Space Detective

In the middle of the 1950s, the world isn't quite what you'd expect.
World War 2 didn't end with a victory, but with a truce.
The Empire State Building stands proudly in a city named New Angouleme.
There's plenty of friction among the Police ranks between the Irish and the Mohawks.
And don't discount the discord sown by the Vikings . . .
The past couple of years, you may have been teased by illustrations posted on Facebook by Mike Fyles for a story named Space Detective. Mike is an artist who has worked on a number of books, including some Spider-Man and Iron Man covers for Marvel Comics.
I've been working on the Space Detective novel in fits and starts the past two years. It's more than 50 thousand words at this point, and is the longest story I've written thus far. There are still more words to write before it's completed, but finishing this tale is my first priority. I would say, "I plan to have it done by the end of the year," but over the years I've learned that making a plan is a way of telling God a joke. So I'll say, "I hope to have it done by the end of the year." Then it will join my other work at Amazon and Smashwords.  Many thanks to Mike for his cleverness and amazing patience.
Here is the initial entry in the Portfolio of Progress. It begins with the first two sections of Space Detective. I hope you enjoy the story . . .

Chapter One

Despite the Model 6’s well-documented flaws, the Space Detective preferred the Model 6 Rigelian Hand Zapper to the Model 8. He found it a better balanced blaster that fit his hand just so. The Model 8 felt barrel-heavy to him. And the way the 8 molded itself to his hand was very unsatisfying—and a little disturbing. (More than once I heard him say, “I just don’t know what they were thinking when they started using those Nevian Octo-ambient grips on the Model 8. When I let go of the gun, it wouldn’t let go of me. Had to pry it off my fingers.”)
So the Space Detective radiated absolute confidence as he leveled his Model 6 at Ronnie Roquette, whose recent activities might better be described as invasion assistance rather than mere smuggling. But although Ronnie was staring down the cannon-sized blow hole of a lethal hand blaster, his face began to glow with confidence. Uh oh.
I alerted the Detective:
<<Your helmet must have a breach—short-wave Confidence radiation is infecting Ronnie. Better shoot fast.>>
The Space Detective pulled the Zapper’s trigger, and the Model 6 demonstrated one of its flaws: Instead of firing with a warm and satisfying POM, the charge drum flew to the right with a PLING, leaving the Detective gripping a gun frame with a barrel attached. As usual, he was not at a loss for words—at least, one word: “Poot!”
As the drum escaped the frame, its locking pin had shot forward and struck Ronnie in the face. “Hey! That coulda put out my eye!”
Radiated by confidence leaking from the faulty helmet, the smuggler charged, arms extended.
The Detective’s left forearm batted aside Ronnie’s right arm. He brought up the handgun and wobbled the smuggler by rapping Ronnie’s collar bone with its barrel. The pistol, even without the drum, weighed enough to stun the outlaw. The Detective lunged forward, smacked Ronnie in the face with the front of his helmet and dropped him to the floor. Even unconscious and battered, Roquette’s features suggested an attitude of easy accomplishment.
“Gotta get this helmet patched,” the Detective said.
<<The Studie is coming around the corner,>> I reported. I maintained a telepathic link from the office with the Detective. It would be a misnomer to say I manned the office, as my genetic forebears are Plutonian—I sat in a container lined with dry ice and kept operations flowing while the Detective handled the leg work. After all, he had legs.
The Detective dropped Ronnie’s sidearm into a coat pocket, picked up an egg carton-sized container from the floor with one hand and with the other slung Ronnie’s inert form over a shoulder. Grit cracked under his Florsheims as he crossed the vast concrete floor to the open door. As he stepped out from one of hundreds of warehouses lining this part of the Great Mohegan River, a car skidded to a stop before him: a modified 1950 Studebaker Commander Starlight Coupe, Milky Way black. The passenger door opened, and he plopped Ronnie into the seat, closed the door. He got into the driver’s seat—because I had directed the auto’s robot to the door, no one was actually already in the seat—and set the carton between him and Ronnie’s slumped form before putting the Studie in gear and driving off.
Chapter Two
At the office—a second-floor walk-up over a tobacconist’s shop that ran numbers from the back room—the Detective opened the top drawer for one of three filing cabinets, touched the Containment tab of a file folder. He moved Ronnie, still on his shoulder, closer to the drawer, and the smuggler was sucked into the Containment folder like something in a Tex Avery cartoon. The Detective closed that drawer, opened another and manipulated the Evidence tab, and the egg carton likewise slurped into the cabinet like a wet noodle.
From a third drawer, the Detective opened a Workroom folder and stepped in.
As every school boy knows, as New Angoulême had spread horizontally across the landscape since the arrivals of Giovanni da Verrazzano and Henry Hudson, the search for more space had eventually led to the creation of the skyscraper to exploit vertical space. The technologies the Detective relied on let him use the space between spaces—much as a tesseract is a four-dimensional cube, the Detective employed science that allowed him to use rooms within rooms that weren’t even visible from outside. Some of the spaces within the file cabinets’ folders were larger than the office within which they sat.
Sitting sealed in a dry ice container all day gave me the time to think about these things. Luckily, I didn’t get headaches.
In the Workroom, the Detective found the fault in the helmet that had allowed Ronnie Roquette to be contaminated during their little skirmish. He returned to the office proper after retrieving and donning a fresh helmet from Storage.
Just in time. The office door opened and revealed Chief Inspector Jonathan Brewster Uncas. His figure briefly fuzzed around the edges as he stepped over the threshold, and Uncas shook for a moment as from a chill. The fuzz and chill resulted from the transport process that moved any visitors from the second floor walk-up to the actual location of the Detective’s office—using the same tesseract-like science, the office was Neither Here nor There, but “Nere,” as the Detective described it. Just by pressing a switch, the New Angouleme office could appear to be empty, and the office in Hong Kong or Paris would appear to be occupied.
Whoever crossed the threshold remained unaware that he had been transported from one reality to another. It was one of those little secrets we kept that made our work tricky.
“Always cold in here,” Uncas muttered.
His name was pulled from Mohegan history, but he actually belonged to the Pequot tribe; still, both were Algonquian, and Uncas wore on the lapel of his topcoat the traditional black feather pin of the Algonquian nation. The police department ranks were filled with Mohawks and Irish, and the newspapers occasionally ran a story about dissent in the precincts caused by Uncas—or one of the other officers from a competing tribe—rubbing someone in uniform the wrong way.
He didn’t doff the non-standard-issue black beret. “Where have you been tonight?” he asked.
The Detective moved casually, sat in the captain’s chair behind his desk. His helmet was opaque, therefore it would do no good to smile, so he tried to put a smile in the sound of his voice. “Why should I have been anywhere but here?”
Uncas remained all business. “The hood of your car was still warm.”
Note to self: expect a reprimand and a request for a better heat sink for the Studie’s engine.
Experience proved that putting Uncas at ease helped keep relations less difficult. The Detective gestured to a visitor’s chair with a gloved hand: “Go ahead, have a seat. I bet you need a break from chasing down all those JDs.”
Crimes committed by teenagers had been fodder for bold headlines in the newspapers recently. Juvenile crime was nothing new, but its nature had gotten more violent lately—beatings, shootings, rapes, small-scale riots—and the spike in this sort of activity had both shocked and frightened a large part of the population.
The chief inspector ignored the effort to make things warm and friendly. He remained standing. He kept that stiff, professional posture that alternately drew praise for his unyielding focus to the particulars of his job—or scorn for his lack of reasonable human empathy when dealing with citizens or members of the competing news outlets. He might well have served as a model for Dragnet’s ubercop, Detective Joe Vrijdag.
“Where were you three weeks ago, May 28 through June 6?” Uncas asked.
“Working a case,” the Detective said.
“Out of town.”
“Four weeks before that?” Uncas asked.
“Another case.”
“Out of town.”
“For whom?” the inspector pressed.
“That’s a confidential matter between me and my client,” the Detective responded. “I’m sure you can understand that, Inspector.”
Uncas said nothing, but stared without blinking at the Detective. It was the sort of look that would prompt those irritated news writers to include the words “stoic Indian” in their blocks of copy.
Finally he spoke: “You disappear for days at a time, supposedly on a case. Business must be good,” and he almost smiled, “but no clients ever appear at your door. You could meet them at other locations, of course, but there is no evidence of that, either.”
The Detective didn’t respond. He seemed content to let his uninvited guest air his thoughts to see where they would carry him.
Uncas raised a hand, touched one finger to his chin. “You show up at interesting places—crime scenes where you seem to have no business, you just happen to be in the neighborhood, or you are exercising your professional interest.
“And I have not even mentioned this gaudy outfit. Do you ever take off that ghastly mask?”
The Detective shook his head, silent.
“I pegged it for an interesting business gimmick when you first came to my notice,” Uncas continued, and he put both hands in the pockets of his coat. “Masked wrestlers were gaining fans in the rings, so it made sense you might draw attention to likely clients with a mask of your own. And Space Detective probably has a nice ring for those souls who get a tingle from those low-budget UFO movies. Your paperwork is all clean and on file, but how you got approval without using an actual, legal name, I have yet to determine.”
Space Detective is my legal name,” the boss answered.
Uncas gave him another one of those time-stopped stares.
Now he placed his hands on the back of the visitor’s chair and leaned forward. The light from the desk lamp blazed on the enameled lapel pin. “Your existence puzzles and bothers me. I do not like puzzles in my city. Puzzles mean problems in my world.” He turned to leave, then stopped at the door. “For the past three years, you have struck me as a problem I just have not unpuzzled yet.” Then he exited, fuzzing around the edges as he left, and shut the door behind him.
“Hm.” The Detective remained silent in his chair awhile. Then: “I’d expect someone who considers absolute zero a balmy day to know something about cooling car engines.”
Ah, the expected zinger.
<<I’ll get on it.>>
“Hm. What do you suppose all that was about?”
<<What do you mean?>>
“That uncharacteristic, un-Uncas-like unburdening?”
I thought about it. <<Does he think we’re criminals?>>
“He might think I’m a criminal. He doesn’t know about you.”
True. I considered. I started to be distracted by thoughts of the Studie’s heat sink. So I asked, <<What do you think?>>
The Detective tapped his fingers on the desktop in some sort of rhythm he’d heard on the radio. He answered, “I think I need a gunsmith.”

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