This month is National Novel Writing Month. As such, I will be trying to write about 2000 words per day on a novel, which Da Roolz insist must be started from scratch. Seeing as I'm already working on a WH40k novel, and I don't have any ideas in mind for another novel in the universe (at least not a novel outside the Vercingetorix storyline), I'll be writing a different novel - a film-noir style detective science fantasy. Because Detective Mack Royal needs about 2000 words a day to stay on track, my time for posting blog junk will be sorely curtailed. So, despite the fact that this is technically a 40k blog, this month will be full of NaNoWriMo posts. Unless, that is, I say "fuck this mess" and get tired of it, which is quite possible.
"Let's hear it, Ike," said Detective Mackenzie Royal. "What have you got for me?"
Plainclothes Sergeant Dwight Bates took a puff of his cigar. The brand was Hyperion's Best - the cheap, foul kind that only paupers and coppers smoked - and the plume of smoke Bates blew out drifted lazily to the ceiling and added to the haze in the room. A bed dominated the room, and on the bed lay two stiff, nude corpses. The woman, genemarked as Ruth Bunsen, Rations Administrator for hab block D, was wrapped in a bloody sheet. The man, Dominic Rhodes, was a successful lawyer who held the charters for the entire hab block. Both corpses were stiff with rigor and pale from lack of oxygen, and their mouths hung slightly open. Each one had a ragged gunshot wound in the chest which was thick with congealed blood. "This one's easy, Mack. Two bodies, no muss, no fuss. The wife, Ellis Rhodes, is a shipwright up in the Staryard. She's been up for four months working life support on the H.R.S. Magellan, and she was due to be up there another two. She takes an early furlough to come see the hubby , walks in, and finds him schtupping the rations girl. She runs to the den," he said, stepping around Royal and into the den, "smashes the glass in the hutch here, and grabs the blaster. Boom, boom, takes out her hubby and the girl. Boom, blows open the safe, steals his cash and his charters. Flips the kitchen table, smashes out the den window, and down the emergency elevator. Makes it look like a burglary gone wrong." Bates folded his arms across his substantial gut and grinned around his cigar. "Looks like you don't even get a chance to earn your fee this time, Mack."
"Hey Joe," called Royal. A uniformed officer came in from the hallway. "Get me a cup of caff from downstairs, would you? Strong and dark. Ike, you want one?"
Bates shook his head. "The wife's been burning through our ration chits like a madwoman trying to feed that sucrose habit of hers. I got nothing to spare."
Mackenzie glanced at the detective's bulging gut, but sighed and said, "Two cups, Joe, and one with cream and sugar." The uniformed policeman saluted with two fingers and left. The pneumatic door hissed shut behind him. Royal turned to Detective Bates. "I'm not so sure about that theory, Ike." Royal turned and went down the long hallway to the kitchen. The cabinets were standard synthetic wood, but finished to a gleaming shine. Their counters were likewise treated. The Rhodes family had a refrigerator full of fresh greens and produce, almost certainly from offworld. It was the most outward display of wealth in the room. Royal whistled. The table that had once been central to the room was upended, and its contents had spilled out upon the floor of the kitchen. Forensics technicians were taking graphs of the scene and examining the mess through multispectrum scanners. Royal shooed the techs out of the way and knelt down to the clutter of dishes. He put on a forensic glove and sifted through the broken glassware and spattered liquid, separating the spoons and forks from the smashed cups and plates. "What do you see here, Ike?"
Ike glanced down at the assembled flatware. "Some cheap, chit-store crap imported from Orion or Sirius or somewhere before the Independence. What's it to us?"
Mackenzie touched each spoon, counting aloud as he did so. "One, two, three. Three spoons, Ike. And I would bet even money on three cups and three saucers. There was a third person in this apartment. Now, do you suppose these two just stopped in the middle of tea and said, 'It was really nice to catch up with you, Zelda, but we're gonna go in the back room and play a game of hide-the-sausage, come back any time?' And look in here." Mackenzie went into the den with Ike in tow and pointed to the hutch. "Why would Missus Rhodes have smashed the hutch? She surely had a key. Ditto on blasting the safe." He then pointed to the window. A heavy bronze lamp had been yanked from the end table and dropped by the windowsill. The window, a single pane of transparent fiberglass, had been dented with several heavy blows, and had fallen out onto the fire escape in one piece.
"Neighbors put Ellis in the neighborhood of 45 kilograms, 50 tops. You wanna tell me a 50-kilo zerograv worker had the umph to crack a solid fiberglass window with that thing? And the neighbors reported three shots. We got two corpses, two holes, two pools of blood. What happened to that last shot?" Mackenzie looked around the apartment. "No, I don't like it, Ike. We'd better not close this one just yet. I'm not saying you're wrong, but for a girl with a spitshine record, this dame seems to know an awful lot about the finer points of smash and grab. This smells of an accomplice to me."
"You know, one of these days I'm just gonna press gang you into the force. This freelance crap you do is beneath you, Mack." Nonetheless he frowned and his eyes swept from the bedroom to the den to the kitchen. He sighed heavily. "Damn your eyes. You're probably right. I'm gonna be at work for three days straight doing the logwork on this one."
The uniformed cop returned with two steaming cups of coffee. Royal fished out a five-chit and traded it for the coffees. "Keep the change, Joe. Get yourself something nice." Joe gave his two-finger salute again and left the apartment. "That's not the worst of it, Ike. Ellis, our ration girl, was pregnant. We'll need to check the genemarks on the kid." He paused. "I almost hope it is Dominic's kid. I won't say I like the idea of a jealousy double murder, but if it's not his, this case could get messy." Royal shrugged off his trenchcoat, folded it neatly, and set it on the couch in the den.
"I still say he was getting some on-the-side action. If it ain't his, I'll buy the caff for the next week." Ike keyed his comm. "Put out a clusterwide APB on Ellis Rhodes. I don't want her genemark to be found on the can in a dirty Tethyn spaceport without my knowledge. And spread the word to all the hab supers to keep an ear out for any loose talk about a witness. Somebody else was in this hab."
There was a thunk from the closet at the far end of the hall, then a whirring noise. Royal reached into his shoulder rig and pulled out a heavy-bore pistol. Bates did likewise. The officer motioned for Mackenzie to cover the living room while Bates scoped the hallway. Royal complied, disabling the safety and drawing a bead through the den to the hallway beyond. Every muscle tightened, ready for swift action. His heart thumped loudly in his ears. Detective Bates took a deep breath, pulled back the lever on his revolver, and popped his head around the corner before ducking back behind the wall. Bates facepalmed. "Son of a bitch, Mack, it's a house bot."
Mackenzie sighed and the tension left his muscles. He crossed through the den with two big strides and peered around the corner. "And us shaking like a couple of rookies. I think we can keep this one between just you and me." The robot was an old model, tarnished with age, but it still seemed in good shape. At least, none of its parts were cheap after-market replacements and it didn't make any rattling or sputtering noises when it moved. The house bot's treads made faint divots in the plush carpet which slowly puffed back into shape as the bot rolled past. "It is time for midday sanitation. It is time for midday sanitation. It is time for midday sanitation." The robot's voice was a flat, toneless imitation of a human.
"Not a bad model, at least for a D-hab family," Royal mused. "Looks like the Rhodeses were doing pretty well for themselves." He snapped his fingers to get the bot's attention. "Suspend subroutines. Police business. Designation?"
The robot halted, rocking slightly back and forth. "Designation NI-HB-443-10-COM. Secondary designation 'Nibsy.' Owners Dominic Rhodes, Esquire, Deceased, and Doctor Ellis Rhodes."
"Damn," cursed Bates, "not an aibot. Guess I shouldn't be surprised. Not many of them consent to home servitude."
Rhodes addressed the robot. "Nibsy, when is the last time you were active?"
The robot's processor whirred noisily and its cooling fan kicked in. "Last active mode was 24 hours ago."
"Nibsy, would you please play back your audio logs for the last time you were active?"
"I am sorry, detective, I cannot comply without an officer of the law and a valid warrant. My owners have commanded that I cooperate with law enforcement only to the extent to which I am obligated."
Mackenzie pondered that for a moment. "Well, Ike, I'm stumped. Unless you've got a warrant, we'll have to come back."
Detective Bates shook his head. "Didn't anticipate a bot in the first place. Nibsy, as an officer of the law, I order you to refrain from all duties until duly notified by another officer of the court."
"Your order is acknowledged and I will comply. I have also notified the family lawyer of the police presence in the household, as dictated by my subroutines. Have a pleasant day, Detective Sergeant Dwight Bates. Have a pleasant day, Private Detective Mackenzie Royal." With that, the robot scooted backward on its treads, thumping into the back wall of the closet and closing the door behind it.
Mackenzie stared, dumbfounded, at the robot as it withdrew. "What do you make of that, Ike? I don't usually deal with bots in Downhab. Do the bots come off the factory line that stubborn, or did our friends the Rhodeses have something they wanted to keep on the quiet?"
"It's tough to say, Mack. Only one way to find out, though. We're gonna have to go see a judge." Bates shrugged. "Good for you, though. Means you're definitely on this case for the long haul. I'll make sure Deb down at the precinct gets you some chits in advance."
Mackenzie nodded. "Thanks, Ike. I'm gonna go make some rounds, tug a few ears, call in a favor or two. I'll meet you back at the precinct tomorrow morning. Let me know if you get that warrant sooner. I wanna be here when the tin can opens up." He retrieved his trenchcoat, shook it out, and donned it in one smooth motion. Grabbing his hat from its hook by the door, he tipped it to Bates before ducking out into the hall. "Alright, Mack," he muttered to himself as he walked down the hab hall toward the elevators, "time to earn your pay."