The USS Hawking was humanity's greatest achievement. It wasn't much to look at; it was a spacecraft built in orbit, so it had no streamlining, no panache, it was a mass of pods, modules, and struts. It was designed for functionality with no thought given to aesthetics. The part of it where the two-person crew that would guide it through the stars lived was no bigger than a school bus. But for all of that it had one thing that no other craft in history possessed, a functioning Alcubierre Drive. And that meant that the Hawking could conceivably break the speed of light. Or more accurately, sidestep it by compressing the space in front of it and making it seem like it was going faster than light.
The Hawking was currently in a geostationary orbit over Earth and was undergoing preparations for its first test flight. If all went well, it would be humanity's first step into the greater cosmos, our first FTL flight. This flight would only be to the orbit of Saturn, but it was expected to make the journey in days, rather than years, and if it made it, humankind's future exploration of other worlds was all but guaranteed.
By now, everyone knows how that test flight went, but when I entered the story, It was still there, undergoing final checks two days before it launched. That was when some killed Dr. Jason Yang. The details of that incident were covered up in the aftermath, but I am setting these words down so that future generations can know the truth of what happened. Even if only after I die.
Who am I? My name is Rafael Moreno, and I am a detective for Interpol. As ISS V, the space station where the Hawking was being constructed was an international project; it was decided that Interpol was the most logical choice to investigate. So I got aboard a shuttle and found myself in the cramped confines of the habitat ring of the Fifth Generation descendant of the original ISS.
I read Dr. Yang's file on the way up, he was half of the two-person crew of the Hawking, and he was one of the creators of the Alcubierre Drive. His job, mostly, would be chief engineer on the ship. He would have been monitoring the drive and the fusion reactor that powered the entirety of the vessel. Keeping everything in balance and running smoothly. Somehow, in the middle of the previous sleep cycle, someone had strangled him to death.
Upon exiting the shuttle and briefly chatting with the Chief Administrator of the station, Janene Wilson, my first stop was Dr. Yangs Quarters. Like the rest of the crew, he lived in the habitation ring, an area that was spun to provide centripetal force in lieu of gravity. As a senior staff member, he had spacious quarters. Though in this case 'spacious' was a relative term and meant that it was just large enough for a small bed and a table with a private bathroom stall, as opposed to the coffin-like quarters most of the rest of the crew slept in. Dr. Yang was still in the bed, where he had been found the previous day
Examining the corpse didn't tell me much that I hadn't already been briefed on. The marks on neck indicated someone murdered him with their bare hands. His position in bed told me he had tried to fight back but was overpowered. Yang was a healthy man in his 30s, but a scientist and an academic who had no military training or anything else that would make him a capable combatant. So whoever killed him would likely have been above average in strength, but it wouldn't have taken anyone whose fighting abilities were too far outside of the normal range. Perhaps a bit strong than average, but not necessarily a gorilla. Which only made this harder, because physical fitness was prerequisite for working on the station, so I couldn't eliminate anyone. Gorillas were in short supply here as well.
So it seemed my next step would be to figure out WHY anyone would want him dead. Love triangle maybe? A bunch of young-ish physically fit people in constant proximity would be a perfect recipe for such a thing. Though the lack of privacy on the station would cut down on that, I figured. So possible, but not likely. What else? Professional jealousy? Owed someone money? Just plain pissed someone off? None of these were things I could rule out, but each seemed unlikely for their reasons as well. Nothing to do then, but talk to the crew.
I set up in the common room and talked to each of the 100 crew of the station one by one. Most had minimal contact with Yang, But not a single one had a bad thing to say about him, nothing that would be murder-worthy anyway. Overall I got the impression of a friendly and professional man, well-liked by his colleagues and who managed not to step on anyone's toes in any but the most literal sense (and the latter was inevitable in such close quarters).
But someone had killed him, and it had to have been one of those people I talked to. Someone was lying, and I had no idea who.
I returned to the office of the Station's supervisor to see if I could get any further insight. As I walked into her tiny office, also on the habitation ring, so it had a bit of gravity, she barely looked up from her datapad before motioning me to sit.
"What can I do for you, detective?" She asked.
"I have to admit; this is puzzling me. No one seems to have disliked Yang or had any reason to kill him. I have just spent all day talking to every person on this station, every single person either didn't know him that well or liked and respected him. So I want to see if I can get an idea of what his life was like shortly before he died. Was there anything odd going on with him, anything at all? Anything he may have done or said that was out of the ordinary?"
Janene looked thoughtful for a second, then said, "Well, there was something, but I don't see how it would relate to his murder."
"Anything at all. You would be amazed at what could be a useful clue. So what was it?"
"While the final checks were being put into place, he said that there were some odd power fluctuations he noticed while doing diagnostics on the drive. They were well within tolerances, but he was insistent upon rooting them out. He said they were not there before and could be a sign of a problem that eventually would go outside of safety limits.
"I'm not a physicist, so I didn't fully understand his concerns, but I found it odd how obsessed he became with, from what I could tell, seemed so minor."
"Hmm, yeah, I understand why you didn't think it relevant. But who could I talk to find out more about it, someone who IS a physicist perhaps? I don't have anything else to go on. Maybe that might lead me somewhere."
I didn't expect it to lead me to anything new, to be honest, but I didn't have anything else. Some failed attempt at espionage was as good a motive for murder as any other.
"You could try Dr. Sunil. He was also part of the drive team and will likely take over Dr. Yang's work. I know that he and Yang talked about it a lot and that Sunil didn't see the fluctuations as a problem either. If anyone can break things down for you, it would be him." She looked at her datapad again, "He would be sleeping now, though. I'll let him know you want to talk to him some more when he wakes up."
I nodded, it was sleep cycle time for most of the crew anyway, at the moment. I decided I would retire to my coffin to get some sleep and pick up the investigation in the morning.
When I entered my coffin, I saw that it had a small monitor on the ceiling, to use for personal entertainment and messages. I noticed something odd as well. There was a message waiting for me. It would no be from my colleagues back on Earth. I had a personal encrypted datapad to which they would have sent anything they had to say. So I checked it. It was from Janene Wilson. The same Ms. Wilsonto whom I had just been speaking. It was short and to the point
"Do not trust Dr. Sunil. Watch yourself"
Things had finally gotten interesting.
TO BE CONTINUED