Author : Steven C. Rockoff

There was no blood, just the smell of ozone. That’s the thing about lasers. They’re cold, impersonal, and efficient; like a seductive bureaucrat. There is something comforting about blood, about seeing your life escape. But here I was, flung on the floor, with a small hole in my suit, just left of the tie. That was it. All I had to show for the violence. C’est la vie, I suppose.

In my right hand, a photomatic hand-cannon: friend, lover, confidante, dispatcher of goons. Just out of reach, to my left hand, the briefcase. Monopoles filaments, ten of them. Just a handful of scrap, but they were enough. Enough for me to retire. Enough for me to get killed. And there he was, the killer, all 200 pounds of mean just a few feet away from where I was slumped. He lay face-first on the floor. The back of his blue suit was covered with holes, as if someone had used him to put out their cigarettes. He was dead, stone dead. Still, he had gotten off that shot, that one shot. And here I was. Here we were, I suppose. And the pale Martian light filtered through the window into the lonely office.

It had started with a dame. It usually does. She was green, bright green, with feelers on her head that bounced in step with the swing of her hips. Her dress was yellow, like the sun, like warmth. She told me a story, the dead father, the shady dealings, that she wanted to sort it all out, just get it over with. I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t have to- I needed the work, she needed a private eye. It started out all right, a little legwork, staking out the family provisions business. Wasn’t hard to figure out, her father was a made man, one of the old families from Arabia Terra. Half the restaurants in New New Amsterdam bought supplies from the business, and the rest paid anyway. But she didn’t just want the information; she wanted the will, a manila folder in a black briefcase. I didn’t trust her, but I didn’t see it coming either.

I scheduled a meeting with one of the runners. We met at a café, I paid him, and he handed it over: simple. Must not have known what was in the briefcase, probably dead now. I brought it back to my office, and was just about to pour myself a gin and tonic when the door crashed in. My back was to the door; I turned around and even managed to squeeze off a couple shots. Then I fell, like a feather on the moon. It was my lung. The laser had punctured it. I couldn’t shout, I couldn’t speak. His laser was low-intensity, and not everything had cauterized. I was bleeding, but only on the inside. Story of my life.

I heard steps. I struggled to get up, even a little. With my last effort, I raised the gun to the doorframe. That’s when she came in, yellow dress and all. I couldn’t make out her expression. Everything was dull, dark. I couldn’t keep the laser level. She stepped over the dead man and looked down at me. An angel, or a devil? Bismillah.


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