Author: Alzo David-West
A vacuum sound like a whirlwind was booming through the shattered corridor of the third level of an orbital satellite. Sparks and debris shards were suspended in its artificial magnetic field. The single occupant, Morioka, was missing.
Commander Reynolds, whose three-person rescue vessel had investigated the location, was interrogating the last individual known to have made contact.
“You’ve got to understand,” Reynolds said, “you were the only other person there.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Ampersand responded in self-defense.
“Our forensic scans picked up your suit’s molecular traces on what was left of the first two levels of the satellite, where the autonomous engines and the AI computers were. And coincidentally, the collision happened, completely destroying the third level. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit suspicious?”
“If you mean I tampered with the system so that it couldn’t detect the oncoming asteroid, so that she’d be killed, you’re wrong. I’m a space-crime psychologist. I don’t know anything about satellite computers.”
“We have here eight messages from you on her bracelet communicator,” Reynolds began, “sent for a year and a half. The bracelet was the only thing of hers left—on the second level—after the catastrophic collision occurred. Now, why would she leave something so essential behind unless you had somehow been uncomfortable to her?”
“I’ve no idea,” Ampersand retorted. “Besides, if you really read everything, you’d know she politely answered the second message, and then, with her permission, I visited to introduce myself and tell her about my work. When I tried to keep in touch, she never reciprocated.”
“Silence can provoke hatred and, sometimes, … murder.”
“Hatred for what? I’ve a lovely wife and three beautiful small children, and I’m referenced in my field. Why ever would I want to throw everything away because of one unfriendly person?”
“Maybe you’re a little too used to people paying attention to you.”
“Actually, I’m known to maintain a modest profile.”
“Tell me what happened when you went there.”
“Well,” Ampersand exhaled, “we’d scheduled the meeting a few weeks after I was stationed at the satellite here in the adjacent sector. Her profile was in the regional database, and she was also a space psychologist, not in my area. She responded to my second message. I arrived by autonomous shuttle craft, and we mutually discussed our research in her laboratory, for maybe half an hour. The meeting was cordial and pleasant. She was cheerful, jokey, even smiling. Curiously, though, the one picture she had in the room was of herself. After I left, I occasionally sent updates and visit requests, but she didn’t message me back. And now, I hear she’s missing, perhaps even dead.”
“Another question: Why’d you make the second trip?”
“I was on vacation, leisurely passing through. My shuttle craft never stopped at her satellite. You can check the travel memory yourself.”
“We did, Mr. Ampersand. You’re right. From what we gather, the missing was a recluse. And an unfortunate accident happened at an unfortunate moment. We’re sorry to have taken up your time. There’re no further questions.”
An autonomous shuttle craft slowed in the dark enfoldment around Orbital Satellite Chiho. The craft hatch opened, and a form in a life-support suit floated out. A handheld air-pressure gun propelled the figure toward the silent monolith. The form raised the outer sun visor of the suit helmet. In the man eyes, a seething, senseless hatred burned like scorching graves.